Woman at War
by Rachel Willis
One of the best things about Woman at War is the hero, Halla (a superb Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir). Not often do we see a heroic middle-aged woman, but that’s exactly what we get in director Benedikt Erlingsson’s odd, charming, thrilling comedic fairy tale about a female warrior fighting against the devastating environmental effects of a local aluminum plant.
Like any superhero, by day Halla is a model citizen protecting her secret identity as the “Mountain Woman.” A choir director who rides her bicycle to work, she lives a seemingly routine life. But her inner turmoil compels her to fight the environmental destruction she sees happening in the name of greed.
A wrench is thrown into Halla’s life when she learns that her dreams of adopting a child are finally coming to fruition. A little girl in Ukraine needs a home, and Halla wants a chance at motherhood as much as she wants to fulfill her mission.
Emphasizing the film’s heroic theme, musicians play the score onscreen. In terms of stage theater, it’s reminiscent of a choir that typically opens a play by setting the scene. Then by popping up throughout the acts, they keep the audience apprised of things happening “off stage.” Erlingsson uses these musicians to similar, if not exact, effect, and it’s a unique way to demonstrate Halla’s internal conflict.
To underscore the motif of the importance of environmental preservation, we’re treated to many scenes of Iceland’s vast natural beauty. Halla uses the environment to her advantage, finding out of the way locations to sabotage power lines (skillfully using a bow and arrow), effectively cutting power to the plant. She hides from authorities in natural fissures in the ground, and earns her media-branded nickname by being of the earth that she seeks to save.
Interesting questions are raised in connection with Halla’s mission. When does activism become extremism? What actions will we accept as the effects of climate change become more and more drastic? What will we do to protect our home?
Because Woman at War is interested in these questions, and it’s time we make a serious attempt to answer them.