Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), lives a seemingly charmed life. Spending her days riding her bike around her hometown, vacillitating between antique shops and florists, acting as choirmaster for her community, meeting up with her twin sister. After years of trying her application to adopt a young Ukrainian girl is accepted. Oh, and Halla also moonlights as an ecoterrorist.
In a bold opening sequence, we’re introduced to Halla, bow, and arrow in arm, as she takes out an electric pylon that disrupts manufacturing at an aluminum factory on the other side of the city. Her small acts of vandalism growing to industrial sabotage, directly effecting the government’s economic policies. Now that she is to become a mother Halla has to question whether her crusade to help the planet outweigh the needs of the child.
Director/co-writer Benedikt Erlingsson keeps many plates spinning with what initially seems like a clear storyline. Partly a comment on industrialisation and government surveillance, Woman at War could also work as a comedy about a woman having an existential crisis about what is the greater good. It’s a credit to Erlingsson then that the film manages to cover all of these without shortchanging them. The tone bounces between knockabout farce, to despair and occasionally action-thriller territory without putting a foot wrong. For a film with clear dealing with environmental issues it falls into heavyhanded dialogue rarely, with only the occasionally clunky piece of dialogue.
Much of this is aided by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir’s captivating lead performance. She is charming as her, everyday “choirmaster” persona and equally chilling when she becomes “The Woman of the Mountain”. She also plays Halla’s identical, yoga-instructor sister Ada, creating a completely separate character instead of drifting off into caricature.
Woman at War also features a unique device of having the musicians playing the film’s score on screen whenever it plays. The musicians follow Halla around as she is seemingly soundtracking her own life. It’s a conceit that’s cute at first but gradually becomes more baffling as you’re constantly reminded that you’re watching a film rather than being fully engaged in the story. It’s a technique that feels better suited to an out-and-out comedy.
But where the film falls down on that front it certainly cannot be critisced for its visuals. Cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson captures the awesomeness of the Icelandic mountains with a truly masterful eye. People are framed to look insignificant against the lush vistas.
A masterfully told story that’s surprising and heartwarming with some stunning visuals.
Dir: Benedikt Erlingsson
Scr: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egilsson
Cast: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jörundur Ragnarsson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Jóhann Sigurðarson
Prd: Benedikt Erlingsson, Carine Leblanc, Marianne Slot
DoP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson
Music: Davíð Þór Jónsson
Runtime: 101 mins
Woman at War is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital now.