Beautiful, tense, funny and slightly surreal, Woman at War ticked all my boxes.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), who in her day-to-day life is a choir conductor, is also an eco-warrior. The film begins with one of her attempts to call attention to the Rio Tinto aluminium plant’s impact on the environment – by damaging one of the electricity wires. Thus follows a series of events that throws Hallas secret and public life into turmoil.
After successfully running from the site of her interference, with the help of a remote farmer and his dog called ‘Woman’, Halla returns to her daily life, only to discover she has been selected to adopt a young girl from the Ukraine, having applied four years previously.
A mix of emotions take over Halla and she consults with her identical twin sister Asa (also played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) who is a yoga instructor and planning to head off to India to train under a guru. Her sister is delighted with the news and Halla decides to take the child and shares the news with her choir.
However, a storm is brewing inside her of whether to continue with her eco-activism. A member of her choir, her government based informant and the only person who knows both sides of her, who wants her to stop and points to the fact that soon, she will be a mother. Halla decides to publish a letter to the masses, calling herself the Mountain Woman, stating her reasons for the attacks, trying to push awareness. This backfires, and soon the Mountain Woman is hated throughout Iceland, called an extremist, even by Halla’s own sister who is unaware that Halla is behind the activism.
Angering Halla further, she commits one final destructive act before she begins her preparations to travel to the Ukraine: she blows up a Pylon. Although she escapes, with the help of her “cousin” the farmer, she leaves behind a spec of blood, which leads the police to arrest her identical twin sister. Halla turns herself in, but is then saved by her sister who swaps places with her, so Halla can go to the Ukraine, which she does, meeting her adoptive daughter, and taking her lovingly into her care.
Starting with the scenes where Halla is being her bad-ass activist self. Boy oh boy were they tense. Not only did you never know if she was going to succeed or fail, but there were plenty of near-misses where she was nearly caught or used genius to escape the heat/helicopter cameras (like wearing a dead sheep). It was not only tense, but I was worried, mainly because I loved Halla.
When you do have a film that is based so predominately around a single person or a couple, they have to make you feel some kind of way, and Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, even in a language that I can’t speak (the film is subbed, if you see it here in the UK), was endearing, truly believing that what she was doing was right, and also truly wanting so badly to be a mother to the child she was to adopt.
I have to talk about the music. I loved not only the music itself but the element of surrealism that was introduced by the musicians that turned up, live, in certain scenes. Halla is walking through the mountains, there’s a three piece band; Halla is in her apartment, there’s a man on the piano; Halla is in the park, there’s a band and three singers. Rarely does Halla interact with the band, but in moments when she does, it’s so slight that it could almost be imagined…
The humour was subtle, sometimes sarcastic and sometimes surreal, for example, an odd character, a foreign traveller, appearing at all the wrong moments and being blamed for Halla’s activism. The drama came in small, intense bursts that gave the film a great pace and the message wasn’t shoved down your throat, in fact it could have not been intentional at all, and was just something I took away. I also didn’t think the twin thing was overdone or cheesy, I thought it was funny and times and at times an interesting dynamic to explore. The ending was so sweet, adorable, even. And I’d urge anyone who doesn’t mind subtitles to see Woman at War, and if nothing else, bask in the beauty of Iceland, of which you see a lot.