Review: Woman at War

DIR: Benedikt Erlingsson • WRI: Benedikt Erlingsson, Ólafur Egill Egilsson •  PRO: Benedikt Erlingsson, Carine Leblanc, Marianne Slot • DOP: Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson •  ED: Davíð Alexander Corno •  Music: Davíð Þór Jónsson • CAST: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Magnús Trygvason, Eliasen, Ómar Guðjónsson

The title of the film Woman at War perfectly captures the essence of this film – one woman on a relentless crusade for justice. However, the battle in question is a universal one rather than a personal one; global warming is the issue this woman is fighting for. Benedikt Erlingsson’s film is set in his native Iceland and includes a powerful central performance from Icelandic actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir. The film begins by showing the sparse and striking Icelandic landscape; the protagonist, Halla, a clandestine eco-terrorist cuts off the electricity supply affecting the surrounding industrial factories which Iceland are economically dependent on. Woman at War calls into question our own inability as a society to effectively deal with the overarching problem of our times – global warming – while also revealing the consequences of taking matters into your own hands.

While climate change is a global issue, this film focuses instead on one woman’s response to tackling global warming and the effect this has on her personal life and livelihood. When introduced to Halla it is clear that this woman has a functioning place in society and involves very few associates in her eco-conscious attacks. However, the character’s lifestyle choices are called into question when the possibility arises for her to adopt a child. As Halla’s actions are drawing more and more attention, the choice becomes clear: continue fighting for the life of generations to come or save the life of one child in the here and now.

To a certain extent this film highlights the effects that global warming is having on our society, looking beyond the realities of pollution and extreme weather it examines global warming as a point of moral conflict. This film explores the morality of our generation – while her extreme actions may be illegal, Halla views them as essential for the greater good. It is clear that the society Halla exists within can only focus on its everyday realities – fears of pay cuts and a lack of industry investment. Global warming in the context of this film reflects the individual’s own sense of morality.

Another focal point in this film includes the idea of man versus machine, with an emphasis on traceability. With the hope of adoption on the way it becomes increasingly important that Halla can ensure her criminal record remains clean. However, Halla is not ready to give up her environmental struggle in an instant for motherhood. Enraged by the havoc her country’s economy is wreaking on the planet, Halla must battle this out by herself and in doing so we see the conflict of man versus machine. Even in the wilds of Icelandic mountain land, drones and helicopters circulate the area, yet with her bow and arrow and the comical inclusion of a Nelson Mandela mask, there are moments when man defeats machine, giving us hope that Halla can succeed on her mission. In a data-driven world one of the most fascinating parts of the film are the lengths Halla must go to in order to prevent getting caught – phones in freezers, stealing typewriters and costume changes to name a few. While imaginative, this also reveals just how monitored the world has become.

While Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir perfectly encapsulates the defiant and risk-taking Halla, her performance as Halla’s identical sister, Asa, is also equally engaging. Neither of these sisters fit into particularly conventional roles within society and together they represent a sort of yin and yang combination. Both fight for peace – Halla on a global level and Asa on an inner level through yoga and meditation. Halla’s sister believes that through finding peace within ourselves this will have positive ripple effect onto others and therefore the planet. However, Halla believes in taking action and doesn’t see the benefit of looking inwardly to find solutions. Asa can be viewed as a contrast to Halla to highlight Halla’s extremism, bravery and willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. While Halla’s sister may not be as active as Halla in her actions both sisters demonstrate a strong sense of resolution and selflessness – qualities that do not appear to be evident in their government, police force and society.

While this film can be seen as realist in that it focuses on current topics and displays less conventional members of society, there are certain aspects to this film that require an extension of belief. Throughout the film there is a brass band that serves to express the protagonists inner emotions; while the music is excellently timed and adds a touch of humour, it alters the serious tone of the film somewhat. While Halla clearly knows how to remain inconspicuous, there are a couple of moments within the film that have an air of Deus-Ex-Machina about them.

Ultimately this is a gripping and intelligent film which tackles the biggest problem of our time with flair. It was interesting to see global warming represented from both a moral and a personal angle – not typically how global warming is presented on screen. While the film reveals the urgency of climate change it is also an ode to nature,  with shots of striking Icelandic mountains, hot springs and lakes, revealing nature as both restorative and a refuge. Woman at War is an excellent representation of human will and the need to do what is right even if this goes against the structure of society.   

 Irene Falvey

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Woman at War is released 3rd May 2019

 

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One Reply to “Review: Woman at War”

  1. A brilliant portrayal of what it’s like to be a modern-day eco warrior. It puts me in mind of Lionel Flowers’s more modest efforts in Chapter 47 of Alun Wessler’s prodigious epic, ‘Odysseus’:

    ‘Very soon the manager appeared. She was plump and smiling, about thirty, and seemed eager to please.
    “Is there have problem?” she said.
    “Yes,” replied Flowers. “It’s cold in here. Look at all your customers.” The huddled body language and the pained expressions of many of the clientele seemed to bear Lionel out, and he got the feeling that for once he was on a winner. “Could you please turn down the air conditioning a little bit for the sake of your customers, even if you care nothing for your electricity bill or the environment?’
    “Sorry sir,” said the manager with a well-rehearsed fluency that suggested she had had this conversation many times before. “It have a central system and we can’t to control it.”
    To the extent that it was possible in the Arctic conditions, Flowers was starting to lose his cool.
    “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just don’t believe you. Nei dei yau mou tiu wan hei a? Do you have a thermostat? Are you trying to tell me that a massive corporation like McDonald’s has bought an air conditioning system with no thermostat? Chee sin! [‘That’s just crazy!’]”
    “Sorry, sir,” replied the manager with the air of one who is striving to humour an awkward and unreasonable customer, and then disappeared. A lot of the clientele were looking at Lionel, but tellingly there had not been one supporting word or murmur. ‘

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