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Runar Runarsson’s When The Light Breaks Movie Review

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When The Light Breaks | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

When The Light Breaks | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Grieving Rights: Runarsson Explores Interrupted Mourning

Rúnar Rúnarsson When the Light Breaks PosterFor his fourth narrative feature, Iceland’s Rúnar Rúnarsson returns to themes of emotional disruption with When the Light Breaks. The film’s Icelandic title, Ljósbrot, roughly translates to ‘refraction of light,’ which is arguably a more meaningful metaphor paired with the film’s bookend visual motifs of a rising sun. Between these moments, a drastic shift occurs for its protagonist, a young woman who loses a secret lover before he had the chance to break up with his current girlfriend. It’s a simple set-up but an agonizing exercise considering the complicated performative measures she must master for the sake of others. But this repression isn’t as easy as it seems, and this navigation allows for an exceptional performance from lead Elin Hall.

We meet Diddi (Baldur Einarsson) only briefly, sharing a romantic daybreak with Una (Hall) as he confirms he will travel to Reykjavik to finally tell his girlfriend Klara (Katla Njalsdottir) their relationship is over. She’s studying art and they’re also part of a band which also includes his brother, Gunni (Mikael Kaaber). When a deadly explosion occurs in a car tunnel, we’re well aware of Diddi’s fate before Una, who goes about her day listening to news stories about the deadly freak accident. But a grief-stricken Gunni finds Una at school confirming Diddi’s car was reported as being in the tunnel, where victims are still being pulled out. Apparently the flight they were both supposed to take was canceled, necessitating his drive to Reykjavik, where he was desperate to get to Klara to break it off.

They wait in dread for confirmation of Diddi’s death. Immediately, Una finds herself on the outside of her lover’s family and close friends, for her anguish is automatically relegated to being appropriately muted to make room for their pain. Suddenly, Klara is on hand to share in this intimate circle of mourning, the two women meeting for the first time. As Una has to frequently step away to express her emotions privately, Gunni confirms he knows the truth about her relationship with his brother, but advises they keep this secret for Klara’s sake. Their other friends remember Diddi and Klara as ‘the perfect couple,’ to which Una must complicitly agree or else risk complicating the awkwardness of the situation.

Runar Runarsson’s When The Light Breaks Movie Review

Of course these best laid plans are almost immediately dashed, especially as Klara and Una have the opportunity to spend more time alone together. An initial confrontation finds Klara admitting she wasn’t comfortable with Diddi’s close proximity to Una until she was told she was a lesbian. Una scoffs, triumphantly explaining she’s pansexual, her last romantic relationship being with a man. As is customary in these situations, it’s easier to ignore asking the uncomfortable questions no one seems to want the answers to. Eventually, a moment of emotional vulnerability confirms Klara’s worst suspicions.

Runar Runarsson’s When The Light Breaks Movie Review

But Rúnarsson’s arguably slight narrative for When the Light Breaks becomes most interesting when the cat’s out of the bag, and both young women find they may be able to offer each other solace no one else can. Klara had Diddi’s past, while Una seemed destined to have his future, the women comparing him to the sun which connected them both. Of course, this adds to the obvious visual references provided by two moments of dawn, but there’s a poignant potency to this cycle of passing days, each containing its own set of endings and beginnings.

Reviewed on May 15th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard. 90 Mins

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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