Dir. Baltasar Kormakur. Iceland. 2008. 94 mins.
In White Night Wedding, Anton Chekhov takes a long trip to Iceland and gets a vigorous shake-up at the hands of Baltasar Kormakur. The irreverent uprooting and updating of the original, which Kormakur produced for the stage as a period piece, may be more of a surprise to devoted followers of the playwright’s work than it is for Kormakur’s fans who might have expected something of the kind.
The Chekhov play, generally regarded as an uneasy tragic comedy, expresses a malaise with a world about to disappear and heralds a new one to come. If Kormakur’s modern version looks at first much funnier, a romantic comedy with distinct screwball and even slapstick elements tucked into it, it is only because the tragic dimensions are kept under cover and revealed gradually only in the last reels. And ultimately, trying to be amusing with a material which, deep down, isn’t hilarious at all, is a challenge that even such a creative spirit as Kormakur can’t always meet. A hit at home, it is most likely to encounter mixed reception from critics and a career in festivals.
The plot unfolds on two parallel lines, one surveying in retrospect the ruins of a failed marriage which is about to be dissolved, the other observing the shaky foundations of a new one about to take place in the present. Both concern a University lecturer Jon (Gudnasson), fed up with his life, his wife, his profession, and his course on Chekhov. Once married to a hyper-sensitive lunatic artist, Anna (Vilhjamsdottir) he is now about to become the uneasy bridegroom of a former student, Thora (Eliasdottir), his junior by at least 20 years. To complicate matters, he owes his bride’s parents a small fortune for renting a piece of land he never used and his future mother-in-law (Jonsdottir) threatens to call off the wedding if he doesn’t settle the debt. Then there is the bride’s father who dreamed of becoming an opera star before his marriage, a bald priest who is allergic to himself, an insatiable overweight musician who is the groom’s closest friend, a self-styled local entrepreneur who looks like a homeless tramp and is full of loopy ideas, the bride’s homely sister among others. The story unfolds in Flatey, a natural reserve island close to the shores of Iceland, during the White Nights of June when the sun practically never sets.
Moving performances from Olafia Hronn Jonsdottir, who instils a touch of wistfulness in her money-grubbing character, Johann Sigurdarson, as her harassed husband and a high strung Margret Vilhjamsdottir as Jon’s first wife, are a great help, although Gudnasson’s Jon fails to overcome the main obstacle facing anyone who tackles this character (and that goes for Ivanov in the stage play as well). Too self-centred and immersed in his own self-induced misery, he does not deserve and will most likely not get any sympathy from an audience.
Olafur Efill Egilsson
Hilmir Saner Gudnasson
Thorstur Leo Gunnarsson
Olafia Hronn Jonsdottir
Orafur Darri Olafsson
Olafur Egill Egilsson