Woman at war

WOMAN AT WAR. Starring: Halldora Geirharosdottir. Also, Davio Por Jonsson, Magnus Trygvason Eliasen, and Omar Guojonsson. Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. Rated M (Nudity). 101min.

This subtitled film from France, Iceland and the Ukraine is a dramatic comedy written, co-produced, and directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. The movie was selected as the Icelandic entry in 2018 for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st. Academy Awards in 2019. The film has nothing to do with war in any military sense. It tells the story of a radical woman living near to an industrial plant in Iceland, who is about to adopt an orphan child, and has to find a balance between motherly commitment and activist intent.

Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir) is a single, middle-aged, and independent choir conductor living in the highlands of Iceland. She is a popular village figure, but she also happens to be a passionate environmental activist. In secret, she wages a one-woman war against the local, aluminium plant - giving the film its title. She is totally dedicated to disrupting the operations of the Rio Tinto aluminium plant near to where she lives. She is convinced that the plant is disfiguring the beauty of the surrounding country-side, and spoiling her environment. So as to be true to her feelings, she cuts the plant’s power supply down, and wilfully damages its infrastructure.

Long ago, she made an application to adopt an orphan, Ukrainian child. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, she finds that her application has been approved, and she experiences a clash of motivation between being a good mother and her need to further sabotage the plant’s operation. Her conflict is heightened by the police trying to catch and discredit her. She tries to live the ideals of the heroes in the pictures she has hanging on her wall at home, which include Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi, neither of whom entirely represents the spirit of what she actually does.

Halla is an activist who conscientiously resolves to regularly disrupt an organisation that she considers is wrecking the ecosystem of her country, town, and home. She uses a bow and arrow in Greek style to bring down the industry’s power lines, and manages for a long time to keep her identity unknown. Only an “alleged” cousin, who helps her, knows all that she is doing.

When the news of impending motherhood arrives, Halla explores her problems with her yoga-teaching, identical twin sister, who lives her life according to a very different philosophy.  Halldora  Geirharosdottir plays both roles, which is a risky thing to do, but the device works. The viewer engages easily with one sister wanting to save the world by political action, and with another sister devoted to pursuing personal fulfilment. The adoption theme is crucial to the plot line and the movie’s direction creatively joins the themes of concerned citizen, mother, and caring person in a Wes Anderson-type-flight of fancy that highlights the issues that the film raises. Benedikt Erlingsson’s, as Director, supplies a comic tone to the movie that gives it a light touch.

Along the way, the police miscalculate the identity of Halla, and a 3-piece group of performing musicians and a 3-person choir are integrated constantly into the film’s scenes. It all happens in the middle of stunning Icelandic scenery that is captured by excellent cinematography.

This is a feel-good movie, with a surprise-twist ending, that tackles its social issues with wry style, and good humour. It doesn’t preach, but deftly illustrates the different sides of pressing, social issues and does so gently and with humanity. Its style of presentation is very unorthodox - Ukrainian singers appear on screen in the middle of dialogue that makes a political point, while opponents and bystanders offer their own special accompaniment to the action. The musicians and choir play and sing, while subtly interacting with the characters on the screen. The result is a film that is a cinematic delight, full of curious happenings that happily captivate.

“Woman at War” is quirky, clever and different. It joyfully addresses the issue of climate change, and it mixes reality with the surreal in a very engaging way. Even the hearts of hardened climate skeptics will be warmed by this movie, as it gently rolls by.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Hi Gloss Entertainment

Released April 4th., 2019


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