A remote Icelandic town is the setting for an obsessive search for the truth, when off-duty police chief Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurðsson), begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife.
From the premise alone, the Nordic Noir phenomenon that held the UK in its grip will create expectations of what Hlynur Parmason’s A White, White Day (Hvítur, hvítur dagur), will be. An image is perhaps painted in our mind of the archetypal troubled detective, anxious as he solves whatever the puzzle is that has been laid before him. Ingimundur is this familiar character, but those calm moments of the detective quietly lost in thought, unravelling something bigger than himself is absent here. This is a personal journey into his past that is being rewritten, that injures him anew.
There are parallels between Ingimundur and Sigurðsson’s earlier detective in Baltasar Kormákur’s 2006 film, Jar City (Mŷrin). A father to a troubled daughter, with his tall frame he evoked an intimidating presence, punctuated by moments of intense anger. This was juxtaposed with a gentle and compassionate paternal side to his persona that created a layered character. Once again the actor echoes that same delicate balance, although this time the anger of a spouse with a simmering irritation, who is deeply hurt and angry, but juxtaposed with a gentle and kind love towards his granddaughter, a joy he and his late wife shared. Sigurðsson’s commanding performance alongside the genuine bond between Ingimundur and his granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), does not create an emotional connection, which down plays their interpersonal dynamic, but gives us something more effective – a humanity that touches us more profoundly.
With unsettling music in the background, the film opens with a quote from an unknown source: “On such days when everything is white, and there is no longer any difference between the earth and the sky, then the dead can talk to us who still are living.”
If the text conjures up expectation of a crime story with supernatural or horror elements, Parmason sets a course to subvert these. We inherently take the idea of the communication between the living and the dead literally, which is a mistake here. What is the filmmakers intent by using the quote? The words could be metaphorical – the loss of perspective, of confusion, and how a revelation can clutter the mind – what was once clear foggier now. Also, the memory of a life shared and the possessions of the deceased that betray their secrets are a bridge between the dead and those still living, although it’s a one way communication. In Parmason’s film, the death of the wife is not only a past event, but the discovery of her indiscretion, and its implications on how he now sees their relationship merges the past with the present and the future. By subverting the expectations of the opening quote the director playfully tells us that not everything is as it seems. It’s a simple but effective touch at connecting audience and Ingimundur, for who the story is one of uncertainty.
The mistake is to take A White, White Day literally, and genre and pigeon-holing should be set aside. It’s not a crime nor a detective film, but a story that on some level is philosophically inclined. The concluding scenes culminates with an ambiguous question of the legitimacy of what we’re seeing. But this misses the point, because even if it’s a projection of Ingimundur’s memory, of past and present merging, or it’s an act of imagining, Parmason could be asking whether death is not the end, but is a continuation? It can of course be viewed more simply as Ingimundur journeying through his trauma, finding a resolution and nestling in the love he experienced with his wife. Nothing about this film is concrete, it’s flexible storytelling that emerges out of genre, but belongs to none, and its uncertain themes and ideas emerge out of incidents that are ironically a response to a concrete revelation.
A White, White Day is streaming on Curzon Home Cinema, Peccadillo Player and the BFI Player from Frida, July 3rd.