Woman at War – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Writers: Ólafur Egilsson, Benedikt Erlingsson
Stars: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada
Erlingsson created a fine idiosyncratic film in 2014 with ‘Of Horses and Men‘. In that debut film the Icelandic landscape played a prominent role. In this his second feature film that magnificent landscape and its protection is the essence of the story. For the heroine Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) believes that this unique, almost deserted topography needs protection from the voracious forces of multi-national mining companies.
Halla is in her late forties and appears to be a respectable, inoffensive music teacher. However, the opening scenes show her to be a direct action activist who is prepared to undertake the sabotaging of electricity pylons with a handheld battery-driven electric saw. Necessity is the mother of invention, she also utilises cleverly a bow and arrow – a very ancient invention. The result of her actions is the cutting off of power to various heavy industries. She knows how to cover her tracks and the authorities are mystified as to who is the perpetrator. They eventually pick on an immigrant. The natural fall back of a not-too-bright officialdom is to blame an outsider.
Meanwhile, as she continues her clandestine work she receives from Ukraine a letter informing her that she has been accepted to adopt a baby daughter. It was an application which she had made sometime in the past. She is now faced with two difficult to reconcile activities that of being a saboteur and that of a mother. Halla has to find a balance. Into this dilemma, her identical twin sister Asa (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) provides some constructive but unorthodox assistance.
Meanwhile, throughout the film, the challenging storyline has a surreal three-piece band and also three female singers dressed in traditional Icelandic garb who appear out of nowhere in the landscape. The cinematography of the landscape and these performers help to emphasise the fragility of what is being observed.
The European Parliament awarded the film its Lux prize in 2018 and in accepting the prize Erlingsson stated that climate change will be the focus of all politics in the future. Erlingsson has shown by this film (and ‘Of Horses and Men’) a great ability to draw universal themes from his Icelandic domestic landscape. The relevance of this film has been heightened since its release by the work of the sixteen year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Halla as an individual felt she had to do something. Thunberg has felt the need too to be seen to be doing something. Erlingsson’s film increases the pressure on all of us to look at our own lives in the light of climate change. It is a thoughtful film of the moment.