Set in Iceland, A White, White Day is a stunningly beautiful piece of art

Ingvar E Sigurdssen in A White, White Day, a film of stunning beauty and dark enjoyment. Picture: Supplied
Ingvar E Sigurdssen in A White, White Day, a film of stunning beauty and dark enjoyment. Picture: Supplied

A White, White Day (M)

Four stars

Joni Mitchell sang that you don't know what you've got til it's gone, and for me that was the cinema. Carving some time out of a busy diary to immerse yourself totally in film, in a dark room, with dust playing in the thrown light above your head, a screen bigger than your lounge room.

A White, White Day is the first film I have seen in a cinema in four months and it was a glorious experience.

Yes, the film was glorious too, but just that act of going to the movies was an absolute joy after a fairly dark period.

I was worried that after four months of watching content on my lounge with two Dobermans climbing all over me, a phone in one hand and an iPad in the other, my brain had re-wired itself for the short form of YouTube, QuiBi and TikTok.

And it was a struggle, sitting through almost two hours without once looking at my phone screen, or getting up to make a tea, or put on another load of washing.

Is this what real life was like? It may take some adjustment.

A White, White Day is an Icelandic film of stunning beauty and dark enjoyment.

Ingvar E Sigurdssen plays Ingimundur, a former police chief in the small Icelandic regional town of Hofn, where his retirement unfortunately coincides with the mourning of his wife.

At a loss, literally, the widower pours his energies away from dealing with his grief - spending time with granddaughter Salka (Ida Mekkin Hylnsdottir) and converting a derelict old communications station into a home Salka and her parents can one day live in.

When one of his daughters shares a box of her late mother's possessions, the retired detective sniffs the scent of a mystery and cannot help himself but investigate.

He knew his wife kept secrets from him, and as the evidence mounts, Ingimundur suspects she was having an affair, and harbours dark feelings towards the probable adulterer.

Writer director Hlynur Palmason takes his time with this story, and I mean that literally. One of the film's two spectacular opening montages was filmed with a camera stationary over two years capturing the seasons and their effect on the derelict old satellite communications station that will later become the home Ingimundur is renovating.

This is the scene that I felt re-set my COVID-shutdown-addled brain, made me slow down and immerse myself back into cinema. It stretches for five minutes, and they are mesmerising. Just grass and mercurial weather, a house and a fence.

In the other great scene, which opens the film, the camera follows a car through the tortuous Icelandic hills in heavy fog, and I spent the better part of the film musing on whose fate might be determined by this inclement weather.

While the mystery unravelling on the screen drives the plot, this is really a film about relationships, and I can't think of many films that have had the grandparent-grandchild as the central relationship and captured with such complexity and honesty.

Ida Mekkin Hylnsdottir, the young actress, is the daughter of director Hlynur Palmason, and hers is one of the more compelling and natural child-actor performances, with some really difficult scenes to portray, as Salka is with her grandfather along the way as his mental health deteriorates.

Playing so taciturn a lead, Ingvar E Sigurdssen is all quiet ennui and palpable fury, and as the narrative progresses he finally uncovers something to channel that fury into.

Hlynur Palmason grew up in the remote Icelandic village in which the film is set, and so the film feels at once exotic and mundane. As Ingimundur slowly renovates the house and opens up enormous windows, the tone of the film changes and the bay immediately behind the house, with its constantly changing light, becomes another character amongst the cast.

Palmason holds his shots for long periods, and his team shoot and light mundane objects with delicate care. There is an extended series of shots as the camera follows a loose rock down a ravine and into the ocean, a beautiful moment that also reminds us of the director's fascination with cause and consequence.

Palmason's soundscape adds weight to those long scenes exposed to the elements. I made a note in my journal while watching that the cold has a sound, and indeed, as he was writing his screenplay, the filmmaker sat out in the elements and recorded the natural ambient noise of the locations he would shoot in.

This is a moving piece of art and I cannot think of a better welcome back to the cinema.

Enjoy it safely and think of the health and wellbeing of your fellow cinema goers while you're there.

This story A beautiful, moving piece of art first appeared on The Canberra Times.