Film Movement Movie Review: A White, White Day (2019)

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According to eight-year-old Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), when the composer Robert Schumann found out that his wife Clara had had an affair with Johannes Brahms, he jumped to his death. And while the facts surrounding classical music's most enigmatic love triangle are a bit more complicated than the young girl's description, the story hits her beloved grandfather Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson) harder than she ever could have imagined in “A White, White Day.”

Introduced to the widowed Icelandic police chief after his wife dies in the opening sequence of the movie when her car plows off a mountain road and she plummets to her death, in Ingimundur, we meet a man that is trying his best to keep his head down and get by from one day to the next.

Bringing this to life in a vivid montage where he tries to distract himself from his loss by building a home for his daughter and granddaughter, writer-director Hlynur Palmason's film focuses on the sunlight of one day that fades into the darkness of the night again and again as he uses this technique to illustrate the passage of time.

The first of many dialogue-free sequences which use images, body language, and behavior to bring us deeper into Ingimundur's world, we soon learn that beneath his quiet exterior exists an ocean of rage below the surface that begins to rise when just like Schumann, he realizes that his beautiful younger wife (Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir) may have been involved with a Brahms of her own. Sorting through a box of her belongings that an old co-worker drops off at his house, he's shocked when he discovers not only his wife's old Mini DV camera but a cassette which shows her in a romantic tryst with another man whom he is determined to track down.

Less a conventional thriller than a psychological portrait of a man caught between the planes of heartbreak and scorn, while I'd be fascinated to see what somebody like Paul Schrader might’ve done with this material, it's clear that Palmason is less concerned with telling a palatable story than he is just eager to spend time in the same space as his lead overall.

A somewhat frustrating, meandering, and at times, unfocused film, in “A White, White Day,” we spend nearly a full hour watching Ingimundur drive around, shower, and breathe in and out, until Palmason, at last, decides that it's time to follow through on the dilemma he presented early on.

More in love with his own technique than he is truly able to deduce what he needs to make the best film that he can, Palmason moves from ambiguous scenes to overt sign-posting most evident in a bizarre sequence that fills the screen with images from a faux experimental children's TV show where he spells out the film's larger themes in the weirdest of ways. 

Buoyed by a tremendous turn by Sigurdsson and a second-half that is light years better than the first, while the film is beautifully made and the score by composer Edmund Finnis is as gorgeous as Maria von Hausswolff's cinematography, in the end, it's no match for the story of Schuman and Brahms as distilled down to its very essence by an eight-year-old. 

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