Splash Of Colour
Maria von Hausswolff / A White, White Day
Splash Of Colour
Maria von Hausswolff / A White, White Day
Director Hlynur Palmason’s second feature, A White, White Day (Hvítur, Hvítur Dagur), shot on Kodak in widescreen 2-perf Super35mm, is a story of heart-rending grief, revenge and unconditional love.
While the film’s title was inspired by an Icelandic proverb suggesting that the dead can communicate with the living on days when the white sky merges with the snowy landscape, the visually-arresting feature itself is surprisingly full of natural colour and warmth.
Set in a remote Icelandic town, an off-duty police chief (Ingvar Sigurdsson) begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife. She died in a tragic car accident two years earlier. His obsession for finding out the truth gradually accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones.
Cinematography on the production took place over the course of seven weeks, from mid-August to early October 2018, under the auspices of Swedish DP Maria von Hausswolff, a contemporary of Palmason’s at the National Film School of Denmark in Copenhagen. Locations included the coastal fishing towns of Höfn, Reyðarfjörður and Eskifjörður in the south and east of Iceland, as well as the surrounding countryside.
A White, White Day is the second longform feature that von Hausswolff has shot for Palmason, following the highly-acclaimed and multi-award-winning production of Winter Brothers (Vinterbrødre) (2017), shot on Kodak 16mm. Palmason picked-up awards at many film festivals around the world for Winter Brothers, whilst von Hausswolff won the Camerimage 2017 Best Cinematography Debut Award for her work on the film.
“Our goal is always to try to find a simple, truthful way of expressing the story,” says von Hausswolff about her collaborative work with Palmason. “We have found that a film tends to find its own temperament, look and sound, if you just slowly work your way into it.”
Indeed, this saw von Hausswolff living in Iceland, absorbing the local environment, weather and atmosphere, for a full eight weeks before production on A White, White Day began.
“We didn’t really consider other films as inspirations for the aesthetic look of A White, White Day,” she admits. “Rather, Hlynur and I shared music, photographs or video clips, that we had either taken ourselves or found on the Internet. This time we did talk about setting up a mini cinema in his studio watching films before the shooting, but we ended up not having the time for it.”
The other resource, which helped the pair arrive at their selection of glass and emulsions, were the extensive lens, filmstock, filter and lighting tests undertaken by director Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew the month before filming Phantom Thread (2017). Those informative tests were subsequently published online and proved hugely popular amongst filmmakers.
With respect to capturing the vagaries of gloomy Icelandic mists as well as majestic sunlit landscapes, but with the emphasis on image depth and warm colours, Palmason and von Hausswolff selected Cooke S4 prime lenses, fitted to ARRI 435 cameras. They captured daytime interiors/exteriors onto Kodak Vision 3 250D (5207), with nighttime scenes recorded on Kodak Vision 3 500T 5219. The camera package was provided by Kameraudlejningen in Copenhagen. Film processing was done at Focus Film Lab in Stockholm.
However, the production’s 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enabled by shooting 2-perf, came about more by default than pre-planning. Two years before production began, even before the script had been written, Palmason used vintage Kowa Anamorphic lenses to shoot the prologue of the story on Kodak 250D, 4-perf Super 35mm, capturing the landscape, the temperamental weather and seasons, and the process of the protagonist building a house, in the widescreen format. This involved carefully siting the 35mm camera in exactly the same position on multiple occasions over a 24-month period.
"Shooting 2-perf was also better for us because we planned to film a lot in the protagonists’ car, and to pan around the house interiors, often with a lot of people moving around in the frame. This can be very tricky to do in Anamorphic."
- Maria von Hausswolff
“Shooting 2-perf 35mm automatically delivers a 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which perfectly complemented the prologue footage Hlynur had already shot, as well as the landscapes that we were going to be shooting. Ultimately, we felt it was also in tune with the struggle of the central character in the story,” says von Hausswolff.
“Shooting 2-perf was also better for us because we planned to film a lot in the protagonists’ car, and to pan around the house interiors, often with a lot of people moving around in the frame. This can be very tricky to do in Anamorphic, due to rectilinear issues with Anamorphic glass, and the fact that Anamorphic camera lumps tend to be quote big, heavy and noisy, compared to a standard spherical camera package. The Cooke S4s are fast lenses that have a nice softness and warmth, and they work really well with the smaller size of the 2-perf Anamorphic-sized frame.”
Speaking about how they arrived at the visual aesthetic for the film, von Hausswolff explains, “Essentially, the heart of A White, White Day is about different kinds of love – the simple, unconditional love you have for your children, and the love towards your partner or lover, which can be something completely different, more complex, intimate and unique. But it is also about the loneliness and abandonment of a man who is experiencing sorrow, doubt and anger.
“Consequently, we wanted the camera to be restrained and observational. So the camera moves are classic, from the dolly or on the tripod, and there was no handheld. We also wanted the final result to look naturalistic, yet with warmth and colour, so we shot in available light as much as possible, with any additional lighting kept very, very simple, nothing dramatic.
“I am so grateful for having been able to shoot A White, White Day on 35mm celluloid, because film just works so well in natural light. Kodak 250D delivers nicely saturated colours. The rendition of skin and faces looks especially good. It also has great latitude. We could film indoors, whilst also capturing excellent detail and colour in the landscape thorough the windows of the house, which I am not sure you could achieve so easily if you shot digitally. It is also excellent in white environments, such as the misty, foggy exteriors we encountered, where it can still deliver depth to the image, even in murky light.”