Paris-based The Party Film Sales has boarded renowned Icelandic auteur Rúnar Rúnarsson’s fourth pic, “When the Light Breaks,” which is selected for Göteborg’s Nordic Film Market’s works in progress session.
Rúnarsson serves as producer together with Heather Millard of Iceland’s Compass Films, in co-production with local banner Halibut, Holland’s Revolver, France’s Eaux Vives/Jour2Fête and Croatia’s MP Film.
Lauded for his coming-of age tales set against Iceland’s majestic scenery, Rúnarsson saw his international breakthrough in 2008 with his Oscar-nominated short “Two Birds.” Since then, he has delivered equally poetic fare in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2011 entry “Volcano,” San Sebastian 2015 winner “Sparrows “ and 2019 Valladolid and Lübeck fest winner “Echo.”
As in his earlier works, Rúnarsson was inspired by a personal event for “When the Light Breaks”. “Ever since experiencing the loss of a friend as a young man, I wanted to deal with the emotions I experienced the day it happened by telling a universal story. Another recent loss in my life re-awoke that urge, and the storyline became more concrete,” Rúnarsson explains.
His aim was “to create a narrative or image that encompasses the complex feelings on a day of losing someone unexpectedly, when reality is altered and the future changes at an instant,” he told Variety.
“The film takes that moment and expands it. It unfolds in a short period of time in which the space between contradicting emotions is narrow, when laughing turns into crying, and beauty coexists with sorrow.”
Unwilling to unveil too much of the storyline, the writer-director just hinted at main character Una’s personal behaviour and dilemma. “Una is an outsider in the events that unfold around her, even though she is in fact at their centre. Because of a secret she carries, she can’t claim the space she deserves in the grief that she experiences. Una has to make space for everyone else’s emotions whilst preserving her own dignity,” Rúnarsson pointed out.
In the titular role as Una is Elín Hall (“Let Me Fall”), cast by the director for her natural dual ability to embody strength and tenderness, and “to show rather than tell, which provided the essence for the character,” said Rúnarsson.
Expanding on his visual style and use of 16mm, Iceland’s leading auteur said he wanted “to achieve an experience of realness”. “The rawness of the 16mm film provides a texture that captures the setting and the main character’s turmoil and strength; simultaneously, it introduces a softness to the surface that helps amplify Una’s tenderness and fragility.”
The Party Film Sales’ co-head of sales Samuel Blanc and Estelle De Araujo who worked on Rúnarsson’s “Echo,” praised his new effort to “brings forth a truly unique film that explores the essence of light during life’s most challenging moments, the strength and power of the collective, portrayed with remarkable precision and tenderness.”
Equally impressed by Rúnarsson’s craftsmanship, Mike Downey who served as Croatian co-producer with Igor A.Nola, told Variety: “Rúnar works with uncompromising dedication and profoundly unadorned humanism, and ‘When the Light Breaks’ is no exception, as a film about young people fighting their inner and outer demons all the while trying their damnedest to be adults and trying to desperately connect.”
The pic in post-production was backed by the Icelandic Film Centre, Iceland’s filming reimbursement scheme, Eurimages, Creative Europe MEDIA, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, The Netherlands Film Fund, The Netherlands Film Production Incentive, Croatian Audiovisual Centre, RÚV and YLE.
Compass Films’ Millard said she is aiming for a Summer 2024 release. Besides “When the Light Breaks,” the producer said she will attend Scandinavia’s biggest film market with Erlingur Thoroddsen’s thriller “Cold” (Iceland’s fifth biggest box office hit of 2023), due to screen at the Göteborg market.