Cannes Film Festival 2024: Day 2: 15 May 2024: When the Light Breaks (2024) (Ljósbrot)

When the Light Breaks is a beautiful, poetic study of young people’s grief by Rúnar Rúnarsson.

Lonely Road

by Alexa Dalby

When the Light Breaks

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Director Rúnar Rúnarsson films with a poetic eye. When the Light Breaks takes place in 24 hours, from glorious sunset to healing sunset, that change everything. There’s a special kind of Icelandic existential gloom that can descend like the wall of low cloud on the horizon, like a part of life. Iceland really feels as if it’s close to the ceiling of the world – that’s the mood.

Una is an androgynous performing arts student, with an ultra-short haircut. As the film opens, she and her fellow-student boyfriend Diddi (Baldur Einarsson) sit on a beach watching an idyllic sunset. They spend an intimate night together making plans for the future. The next day he will fly home to break up with his long-distance girlfriend sensible Klara (Katla Njálsdóttir), so he and Una won’t have to keep their relationship secret any more. The only one who knows about it is Diddi’s gay flatmate Gunni (Mikael Kaaber).

But Diddi never gets to his destination, so he never tells Klara. He’s caught up in Iceland’s biggest disaster – a tunnel explosion – and is killed.

The cast, apart from Una’s father, are all students in their early twenties. Dealing with grief for another young person for the first time is a coming of age for all of them.

Una’s open face shows the camera her gradual realisation of what has happened, but it’s worse for her – her special grief for Diddi cannot be acknowledged openly, especially when Klara, his official girlfriend, arrives. There’s lots of consolatory hugging as the group of friends huddle together.But something magical happens between the two women outside the cathedral where the memorial service takes place.

Klara, like the rest of the group, knows nothing about Diddi’s life as a student or with Una. Did he lie to her? She can show her grief openly, but she innocently (perhaps) gravitates towards Una at a clumsy party-like get-together of Diddi’s mourning friends. The two young women unexpectedly bond in grief for the same man: this overrides everything else, which is unspoken. The film concentrates on one long day.

The cinematography by Sophia Olsson is strikingly beautiful. Apart from the amazing sunsets, the row of lights that precede the tunnel explosion is echoed by the row of lights from a beautiful sunset on the sea. It’s a kind of reconciliation. Ethereal choral music by Jóhann Jóhannsson heightens the emotion that pervades the film.

When the Light Breaks premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes on 15 May 2024, where it was the Opening Film. Film sales are by The Party and international representation by The PR Factory.

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