Benedikt Erlingsson’s hero, the titular Woman at War, is, at first glance, an ordinary woman: Hella (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) leads a perfectly mundane existence as a choir director, cycling cheerfully through her picturesque hometown. But behind her charming yet nondescript life hides her secret one: known by the moniker “The Mountain Woman”, Hella is a fiercely determined eco-warrior who has declared war against the local aluminium industry.
Setting tightly-paced action against the breathtaking scenery of Iceland, Erlingsson makes painfully obvious what Hella is aiming to save and protect entirely on her own: she repeatedly takes down electricity pylons which mar the otherwise beautiful landscape and is forced to sprint through the vast, unpopulated countryside to escape police helicopters and drones. This attracts the attention of the politicians who otherwise stand idly by, and the hunt for the saboteur begins.
In the midst of spreading her gospel by way of a manifesto, Hella receives a letter informing her that, after many years of waiting, her application to adopt a child has finally been accepted. Impending motherhood might prompt others to give up their activism; Hella, however, is all the more determined to continue her fight.
While the core cause of the film may be a serious one, the script provides plenty of levity and a dry sense of humour. Underscoring both comic and dramatic scenes, a live band provides music in the oddest places; this creates an almost Brechtian effect of alienation, continually reminding the audience they are watching a finely tuned piece of fiction.
Climate change is certainly a topic worthy of a superhero franchise, and Icelandic director Erlingsson rises to that particular challenge with his latest feature. Woman at War is a thoroughly original film and presents a wonderfully quirky antidote to the mass of Hollywood blockbusters.
CAST: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada
DIRECTOR: Benedikt Erlingsson
WRITERS: Ólafur Egilsson, Benedikt Erlingsson
SYNOPSIS: Halla is a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.