From Iceland — Hlynur Pálmason’s ‘A White, White Day’ Heads to the Oscars

Hlynur Pálmason’s ‘A White, White Day’ Heads to the Oscars

Published October 2, 2019

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Hlynur Pálmason

It’s official: Hlynur Pálmason’s ‘A White, White Day’ will be Iceland’s contribution to the 2020 Academy Awards. The film, Hlynur’s second, has been travelling the world, picking up heat after its premiere at the International Critics Week at Cannes earlier this year. His debut effort, ‘Vetrarbræður’ (‘Winterbrothers’) was similarly successful, so it’s clear that Hlynur is one-to-watch on the Icelandic scene.

‘A White, White Day’ tells the story of Ingimundur, a retired police commissioner who is dealing with the tragic death of his wife. When he learns that she was having an affair before she died, his life is turned upside down into a visually stunning and soul-wrenchingly cathartic tale.

Time as a medium

Hlynur’s education was in the visual arts—something that’s clear when you see his films, which blur the lines between visual arts and filmmaking.

Unlike many other filmmakers, Hlynur works across mediums, playing with moving images, sounds, paintings and sculptures. He spoke with Reykjavík Grapevine in August about the importance of time as a medium in his film work. For him, these are all parallel processes. “One of the things that excites me about this relationship is that a photograph can trigger a story or a storyline that builds into a film,” he shares. “Or you can be working on a film and it triggers something in your painting. I tend to think of my films as compositions.”

“Filmmaking and this film are very much about rhythm and time,” Hlynur continues. “Oil can be said to be the medium of painting. Time is the medium of filmmaking.”

Through the cinematography of the film’s prologue, Hlynur aimed to convey “the experience of time passing”—from the death of the protagonist’s wife to when the story begins. He does so through stunning landscape shots of the run down-house that Ingimundur is fixing up for his daughter and grand-daughter. The montage becomes an introduction to the landscape, the character of the weather, and a glimpse at how time passes for the living after death.

Third time’s the charm

Iceland’s contribution to the Oscars is always decided by a vote among those in the Icelandic film industry. Hlynur’s picture won by a large majority, so it’s safe to say that this was not a controversial decision by the Icelandic academy.

The film will now be added to a long list of contributions from dozens of other countries, all of which are in the running for a nomination in the Best International Feature Film category. Current frontrunners are ‘Parasite,’ directed by Bong Joon-Ho (South Korea), ‘Pain & Glory,’ directed by Pedro Almodóvar (Spain), and ‘Les Misérables,’ directed by Ladj Ly (France).

The last time an Icelandic film was nominated for an Oscar was in 2006, when Rúnar Rúnarsson’ film, ‘Síðasti bærinn’ (‘The Last Farm’) was in the running to be named Best Short Film. That was just the second time an Icelandic filmmaker was acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s ‘Börn Náttúrunnar’ (‘Children Of Nature’) was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 1992.

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