White Night Wedding



BERGEN -- After 2006's smart policier "Jar City" translated awards and critical acclaim into international art-house success, Iceland's leading writer-director Baltasar Kormakur stumbles with his over-ambitious follow-up, White Night Wedding." A loose Chekhov update awkwardly combining comic and tragic elements, Iceland's foreign-language Oscar candidate has scored runaway domestic success. Overseas audiences are unlikely to be wooed, however, and festival-exposure will derive more from Kormakur's name than the picture's own uneven merits.

This should be a nice time for "White Night Wedding" (Icelandic title "Brudguminn" translates as "The Bridegroom"). Anton Chekhov is flavor of the month on Broadway ("The Seagull") and in London, via Kenneth Branagh's much-ballyhooed revival of "Ivanov," the Russian playwright's late-1880s debut.

Kormakur, in collaboration with co-writer Olafur Egilsson, transplants the story to Iceland's bleakly scenic second-largest island Flatey, which looks just great via Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson's cinematography. Here we find self-absorbed college-lecturer Jon (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) preparing to marry his former student Thora (Laufey Eliasdottir) and morosely pondering his previous relationship with mentally-unstable artist Anna (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir).

Deploying some flashily jagged editing techniques, Kormakur cuts between past and present, building up to the predictably (and rather heavy-handedly) chaotic nuptials. These center on the island's atmospheric church, which features murals painted 40 years ago by Kormakur's own Catalan-artist dad. Another notable visual moment involves an outdoor midnight-sun feast that concludes with myriad banknotes fluttering away on the breeze -- an image given savagely ironic significance in the light of Iceland's economic woes.