Sunday, September 07, 2008

White Night Wedding

Baltasar Kormákur | 2008 | 96 mins | Iceland

Strangely, both Icelandic films that made it into TIFF this year have "Wedding" in the title, and are dark comedies about couples who probably shouldn't be getting married. Maybe that's an Icelandic comedy trope that I'm not familiar with? Perhaps less strangely (given the size of Iceland) the two films share several cast members, which makes for a disorienting experience when they're viewed back to back.

White Night Wedding is definitely the darker of the two, and the better as well. Directed by the guy who brought the thriller Mýrin (Jar City) to TIFF in '06 and directed one of my favourite TIFF2000 films, the quirky comedy 101 Reykjavík, White Night Wedding is perhaps his most ambitious endeavour to date.

Kormákur adapts Anton Chekhov's Ivanov, a play about a government official with a tubercular wife who ultimately seduces and weds the young daughter of a man to whom he owes a large sum of money. In this version (transplanted to the miniscule island of Flatey, off the coast of Iceland), Jon (a professor) is poised to marry Thora, a former student. Slowly, we discover that Jon was once married to a beautiful but troubled artist named Anna. As the white, northern night before the wedding wears on, a slew of complications and misunderstandings test friendships and threaten the couple's union.

There's enough comic relief here for the film to be called a "comedy" but it's far more emotionally complex and disturbing than that. Kormákur doesn't tell his story chronologically, so past and present, desire and regret, foreshadowing and hindsight all blend into a beautifully composed, artfully shot collage. A damning indictment of the expectations and mores surrounding love and marriage, White Night Wedding keeps threatening to offer redemption only to snatch it away at the last moment.

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