After enjoying Jar City (Mýrin), Baltasar Kormákur’s entry in the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival, I was excited to learn his next film – which had achieved great success in his native Iceland – would screen in this year’s MIFF. That the film itself is a mixed bag is a little disappointing, however there is an amusing experience here for the right audience.
Opening with the wedding rehearsal of a middle aged man and his far younger bride-to-be, White Night Wedding (Brúðguminn) tells the story of the last night before the wedding, when Jón’s best man arrives on their tiny island community and they get drunk and silly. Conflict with his fiance’s parents over unpaid debts and memories of his first wife will afflict Jón with doubts that his wild night may not salve.
In its first acts, the performances and story are highly entertaining, and the skill with which Kormákur uses flashback to inform the current events means White Night Wedding can avoid excessive exposition in favour of advancing the plot at pace. The bizarre society of the tiny island Flatey is made vivid, and it is clear Kormákur is quite comfortable in the rural regions of his homeland after the success of both this film and Jar City in making the most barren parts of Iceland appealing.
As I am renowned to be ‘anti-comedy’, it is perhaps unfair that I will criticise White Night Wedding for its progressive decline into absurdity in its latter stages, as the first two-thirds of the film demonstrate a deft wit and contain enough drama to balance the unbalanced behaviour of the supporting cast. It is really only in the wedding sequence that balance is lost and the film resorts to slapstick – while some will find this hilarious, it won’t be for everyone. Australian audiences kept Death at a Wedding in our box office top ten for months in 2007, so there may in fact be more interest in this than one may expect.
Based on the Chekov play ‘Ivanov’, White Night Wedding could hardly be blamed for sticking around to make its point, and yet the film feels to have reached its natural ending only to continue for another ten minutes or so and have its meaning entirely changed.
As Jón, Hilmir Snær Guðnason is asked to play a difficult role, in that most of the audience will find his behaviour bordering on reprehensible, and yet somehow he manages to garner just a touch of sympathy for the lead character. Laufey Elíasdóttir is absolutely charming as Þóra, and in fact the film has most life when she is on screen. Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir as Anna is perhaps given the best role of all, as she is allowed to range from reasonable (if a little unstable) wife to then go right off the deep end into obvious insanity. The remainder of the cast provide adequate support, with the parents of the bride seemingly having a ball and certainly generating much of the comedy.
That a rural community could be fodder for a collection of offbeat characters is a theme that has probably run its course, and yet Kormákur manages to make White Night Wedding work. Recommended.Rating: