WOMAN AT WAR
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Screenwriters: Ólafur Egilsson and Benedikt Erlingsson
Juan Camillo Roman Estrada
Runtime: 101 mins.
Australian release date: 4 April 2019
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 26 March 2019.
Woman At War was Iceland’s entry at this year’s Academy Awards and it was certainly an excellent choice because it is an uplifting and timely piece of film-making that depicts a lone woman’s battle against the odds. At a time when the planet faces the possibility of environmental Armageddon due to the globalisation of indifference about the warming climate, this enviro-warrior is sounding a wake-up alarm that she hopes her fellow Icelanders will take to heart. In fact, one suspects that the film’s creator, actor and stage director Benedikt Erlingsson, would like this particular clarion call to be heard around the world. He has said that, “This movie is meant to be a heroic tale set in our world of imminent threat. A heroic tale told as an adventure. A serious fairy tale told with a smile. Our hero serves in this world as a kind of Artemis, the protector of the untouched and wild. Alone, facing a quickly changing planet, she assumes the role of saving mother earth and its future generations.”
Halla (the fabulous Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a 50-year-old choir leader and, secretly, a passionate environmental activist known only by her alias - ‘The Mountain Woman’. With her long bow and arrows, she’s like a modern-day Robin Hood, except she’s stopping the rich from ruining the home of the poor. Waging a one-woman war against the local aluminium industry, she criss-crosses the Icelandic highlands ingeniously shorting out the massive power lines that supply the company’s smelter. As she gets more successful, the forces railed against her become greater and greater and she finds herself being hunted by special operatives with heat-seeking drones. When she receives a letter from a Ukrainian agency stating that her long-ago application to adopt a young girl has finally come through, Halla sets out to strike one last blow at the towers before flying off to Kyiv to meet her much-wanted charge. Complicating her plans is the fact that she had always assumed that the responsibility for the child would be shared with her twin sister, Ása, but now she learns that her sibling is about to head off for a two-year retreat in an Indian ashram. Will she be able to juggle her conflicting desires, pulling off a stunning jolt for the environment while meeting her obligations to her new-found daughter? When they were growing up, the twins’ mother always told them not to complain when they encountered a problem but to “find solutions”, and so Halla commits herself to doing just that.
With its powerful message and stunning locations (beautifully shot by award-winning DOP Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson), propped up by Geirharðsdóttir’s mesmerizing central performance, Woman At War is a film that keeps you guessing. You’re never quite sure where its highly original script is going to take you. Amusingly, many scenes feature a three-piece band (tuba, accordion and drums) that pops up - sometimes with traditionally dressed Ukrainian singers accompanying them - and acts as a diversion, adding visual and aural comments on the action in the frame; a kind of Greek chorus. Davíð Þór Jónsson’s score is a treat, too.
Woman At War dramatically reminds us that we all need to stand up and be counted and make a serious effort to right the environmental wrongs perpetuated against us before it’s too late. Erlingsson would agree. He has proclaimed that, “To me it seems evident that Nature’s rights should be strongly protected in all constitutions and defended by local and international laws. We need to collectively realize that untouched nature has an intrinsic right and necessity to exist, regardless of our human needs or our economic system.” His film was described in trade journal Variety as “near perfect”, and that’s a pretty apt description of one of the best releases so far this year.