When The Light Breaks


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

When The Light Breaks
"Beyond the dark loneliness of grief, is the soft light of a shared mourning." | Photo: Compass Film

The dark loss of grief expands to fill the long magic-hour light of an Icelandic summer day in this delicately worked study of a youth cut short by Rúnar Rúnarsson. The Icelandic director has long had a handle on what makes young people tick and their unpredictable energies - exploring them in the likes of 2 Birds and Sparrows - and they are again to the fore here in a film that is also stylish in terms of its repeated imagery and elegant framing.

The hopefulness of new beginnings is emphasised by a conversation at sunset between fellow students Una (Elín Hall) and Diddi (Baldur Einarsson). They’re in the flush of a first love that they’ve been keeping to themselves. But the morning will see Diddi make the trip back to his hometown to tell his girlfriend Klara (Katla Njálsdóttir) that it's over.

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When morning comes, it brings a tunnel, the succession of lights on the ceiling recalling moons - a leitmotif that runs through the film - until suddenly an explosion with the force of a blazing sun blasts through from the end. We’re only minutes into the film and already the world has tilted on its axis for a group of young friends, shattering their expectations. That shattering is what drives the rest of the film, although in the end things will come together like a mirror.

Una’s world is rocked to the core in a way that the clandestine nature of her relationship with Diddi leaves her unable to share, a situation exacerbated by the arrival of Klara. But this is not looking for moments of conflict, instead probing at the unexpected turbulence that Una is experiencing along with Klara and Diddi’s close friend Gunni (Mikael Kaaber), who feels protective in some way towards both women. Rúnarsson also has one eye on the way that whatever is happening, life somehow continues, epitomised by groups of students who are celebrating graduation by dressing up in matching costumes - reflections of each other, too, though this time of a comical sort.

Hall may have a fragile look - at one point emphasised as she is viewed through glass in a way that gives her almost a ghostly appearance. But the actor imbues her character with fire while Rúnarsson increasingly takes opportunities to help her glow in the light. Rúnarsson delicately builds his film on emotional rather than plot developments, showing how drinking and dancing provides a better outlet for teenagers than a church ever could. In his hands we see that beyond the dark loneliness of grief, is the soft light of a shared mourning.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2024
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From one sunset to another, Una, a young art student encounters love, friendship, sorrow and beauty.

Director: Rúnar Rúnarsson

Writer: Rúnar Rúnarsson

Starring: Elín Hall, Katla Njálsdóttir, Mikael Kaaber, Ágúst Wigum, Gunnar Hrafn Kristjánsson, Baldur Einarsson

Year: 2024

Country: Iceland, Netherlands, Croatia, France


Cannes 2024

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