Tag Archives: Icelandic films

Orchestral Maneuvers

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.

Chilly Memories

I Remember You

by Hope Madden

“Children just don’t disappear in Iceland.”

This line, slyly delivered shortly into co-writer/director Óskar Thór Axelsson’s
film I Remember You, let’s you know that you are not really watching the movie you think you are.

Indeed, the Icelandic thriller weaves two separate stories together using this missing child as the thread.

As the line is delivered, Freyr (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson 0, a psychiatrist, is filling in for a medical doctor at the site of a suicide. An elderly woman hung herself in an old church, writing the word “unclean” on the wall and vandalizing the building before taking her own life.

Though he’s only a fill-in, Freyr begins working with local authorities on the case, which begins as an apparent suicide but quickly turns into something sinister, perhaps supernatural.

Meanwhile, the film spends time with a trio—a man, his wife and her friend—refinishing a would-be bed and breakfast on an isolated Icelandic island.

What does Freyr’s son Benni, who vanished three years ago, have to do with all of it?

To be honest, Axelsson has trouble really clarifying that point. It takes a medium (who also happens to be a lawyer for no reason I can discern) to begin to explain Benni’s connection, but the truth is that these three tales of human misery—the suicide, the DIY trio and the mourning father— are spinning disconnected around us and no amount of spiritual mumbo jumbo can truly bring them all together

Still, I Remember You offers plenty of fine performances. Though Freyr behaves in ways no psychiatrist would (having his ex-wife point that out does little to remedy the problem), Jóhannesson’s caring but distrusting turn gives the film a center of gravity.

The three fixer-uppers (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir, Thor Kristjansson and Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir) offer the most tender and believable performances, and the ghost story itself sits best with them on that secluded island.

There’s also an effectively foreboding score and the endlessly imposing if beautiful Icelandic backdrop. The biggest issue is that Axelsson, working with Ottó Geir Borg to adapt Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel, can’t bring the most intriguing threads to the surface and tie them together.

It’s a movie that refuses to stay with you. The final image is provocative, but even that won’t help you remember I Remember You.