Woman at War: a refreshing, inspiring film

Women at War
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
Written by Benedikt Erlingsson  & Ólafur Egill Egilsson
Starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Davíð Þór Jónsson & Magnús Trygvason Eliasen

Director Benedikt Erlingsson’s latest film, Woman at War is delightful, offbeat and uplifting. The main character is Halla, a choir director in her early 50s, who lives a secret double-life as a lone saboteur of heavy industry threatening her Icelandic environment.

In the film’s exciting opening scene, she scampers across the rugged but beautiful Icelandic countryside from helicopters and drones, takes cover under a natural sheet of earth and is helped by a local farmer.

Some of Erlingsson’s techniques seem almost Brechtian. The humour snaps the audience out of the trance of the action, so that we, momentarily at least, are reminded that we are watching a movie and remain critically aware of the political messages.

Then there is the Icelandic band and a Ukrainian a cappella trio, which are part of the story and yet have nothing to do with the action.

The film raises many questions. Do we choose to pursue personal fullfilment or should we take responsibility for issues that affect entire communities? This question is highlighted by the different paths that Halla and her twin sister take.

We also see it when Halla’s dream to become a mother (through adoption) is almost thwarted by her attempts to save the environment.

Then there are the unintended consequences of her actions. For the provincial Icelandic police, a hapless but long-haired Spanish tourist, innocently riding his bike through the area being sabotaged, seems to be an obvious suspect — not once, but several times. While it creates some of the humour in the film, the humour underscores a serious concern.

It also raises the question of individual action, in particular individual acts of sabotage versus collective action and the effectiveness of both. At the start we see Halla as a lone heroine, damaging the power lines. However, she cannot complete her activist work and escape arrest without the help of the farmer and her sister.

This all adds up to a film that is both refreshing and inspiring.

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