I don’t usually watch foreign films because I find the idea of reading subtitles quite bothersome. However, my mind changed for the better when I first saw the trailer for Woman at War––I was instantly hooked.
Released in May 2018, Woman at War has already won eight awards at film festivals around the globe. Icelandic film director Benedikt Erlingsson, masterfully melds together genres of comedy and thriller to create a story that is both entertaining and intensely empowering.
Meet Halla (played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a middle-aged, single, choir teacher who lives a secret life, performing rebellious acts of environmental activism against the Icelandic government and the aluminium smelting industry
The film’s opening is enthralling, with Halla defiantly standing in the Highlands, aiming her bow and arrow to the sky. Letting go, the arrow—connected to a thick piece of wire—shoots up, bringing the powerlines down and cutting the plant off from its source of energy.
It is revealed this is the fifth time Halla has cut the power supply as she is eager to put an end to the poison fuelling climate change. The government ramps up the search to finally catch the culprit of these ‘terrorist’ crimes and thus a game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
Halla hits the ground running, seeking refuge in nooks-and-crannies of the rocky earth, never letting herself be seen by the helicopters and drones scouring the land from above.
Halla is accompanied in almost every scene by a live band composed of a pianist, drummer and sousaphone, used to humourously mirror her conflicting feelings and provide the music for most of the film’s soundtrack.
Just as this eco-warrior delves deeper into her activism, her long forgotten adoption request from four years ago is accepted. How can she be a mother to the little Ukrainian girl if she’s locked up in jail? Halla ventures to perform one final act of defiance–a reminder she won’t succumb to silence that easily.
Halladóra Geirharðsdóttir plays her character commendably, especially given the physically demanding nature of the role. Her acting skills are especially evident in scenes when Halla is extremely determined—like when she hikes resiliently through the harsh terrain or hides in extreme places— including under a ram’s bloody corpse as she walks across an open field. She equally excels as Halla’s twin sister, Àsa, a yoga teacher who is on a journey to find inner peace. Woman at War’s story is full of surprises—hopefully you will discover these for yourself.
Known as the ‘Mountain Woman’ to the media, Halla’s future is full of unknowns. Will Halla’s identity be uncovered? Is she indeed a criminal? Does she get to Ukraine to meet her adopted daughter? One things for certain––Halla is a (wo)man on a mission.
With sweeping, lush green hills contrasted with the sharp, rocky outcrop: the Icelandic highlands provide the perfect backdrop to the film. Cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson crafts stunning sequences and all the elements of the film—camera shots, sound and editing—blend together smoothly.
Not only is Woman at War a visual masterpiece, but it also carries an important environmental message.
Alongside Halla and Àsa, co-writers Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson, have created several other key characters in supporting roles. Sveinbjorn—who is Halla’s alleged cousin— who helps her escape police, and Baldvin who is a member of her choir and a government worker giving Halla inside information about the government’s plans. Also, thrown into the mix is a random Spanish tourist who is not connected with any of the characters but always ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets arrested every time Halla strikes (this is cleverly executed and provides a good chuckle).
Despite the film’s Icelandic origin, it is fair to say I will never let subtitles prevent me from watching an international film again. It is somewhat mesmerising seeing actors perform in their native tongue, accentuating the plot and its context. Woman at War has the perfect balance of combining hints of humour with thrilling scenes that can be compared to Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible movies.
The film is both heart-warming and heart-racing and is bound to get you thinking about the future and what solutions the world needs if we want to save it. Woman at War makes it clear in the final scene that one person cannot do it alone.
Woman at War is now showing in Perth cinemas!