Alone in a stunning landscape, a middle-aged woman takes aim at a transmission tower with a bow and arrow. She’s threading a cable to take down the power lines feeding a smelting plant, heavy industry harming her dearly beloved Mother Earth. She escapes a manhunt to strike again. Halla (Halldóra Geirhasdóttir) is a “Woman at War.”
Don’t even try to box cowriter (with Ólafur Egill Egillsson)/director Benedikt Erlingsson into a genre. His delightful feminist fable is a twist on the Greek goddess Artemis, known for hunting with a bow and arrow, but also associated with nature and childbirth. The film is an eco-thriller, but also a story of sisterhood and motherhood. It could be described as a comedy with musical Greek choruses. While the blend could be adjusted to taste, its funnier moments on the gentle scale of humor, “Woman at War” continually reinvents itself, Geirhasdóttir’s vibrant performance its compelling constant.
Halla dives behind stones and beneath an overhanging peat ledge as a helicopter circles overhead. Making her way down from the verdant hills, she approaches a farmer and his sheep dog and asks for help. She tells Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson, “101 Reykjavík”) what she’s done and, after realizing she is ‘Bensi’s daughter’ and possibly a cousin, he lets her borrow an old beater. Meanwhile, a tourist on a bicycle, Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) is taken by police outside the smelting plant, ‘not a tourist area.’
Halla arrives late to lead a heavenly choir practice, signaled by Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) for a private chat. After placing their cell phones in the freezer, Baldvin, Halla’s insider accomplice from the Ministry, advises that it is time to publish her manifesto as the C.I.A. has been called in to assist in capturing her. At home, which boasts portraits of Gandhi and Mandela and bright windows full of flowering plants and greenery, another wrench is thrown into Halla’s plans when she opens her mail and learns there is a traumatized little girl, Nika (Margaryta Hilska), ready for her to adopt in Ukraine.
Although Iceland isn’t part of Scandinavia, it shares those countries’ dark, quirky humor. Everywhere Halla goes, she’s accompanied by an accordion/pianist, tuba player and drummer (shades of Sweden’s Roy Andersson), a Ukrainian women’s trio in traditional dress or both that only she seems to notice (and which lend beautiful music, the women sounding like the Bulgarian Women’s Choir). Juan Camillo continues to cross paths with Halla’s civil disobedience and pay for it, at least until that manifesto is published from the ‘Woman of the Mountain.’
Director of photography Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson (“Jar City”) paints Iceland as a land of rolling green and quaint colorful towns, the smelting plant and transmission towers aberrations on its landscape. The visual effects used to introduce Halla’s twin, Ása, are unconvincing in this day and age (just as Erlingsson use of the character as a means to his end is rather transparent) but Geirhasdóttir creates two sides of the same coin, Ása a spiritual yoga instructor. But Erlingsson ends strongly, his final image encompassing all the complex aspects of his eco-warrior, Halla, who has become Mother Earth in distress.
“I shoot an arrow in the air and when it lands I know not where.” This quote (from an old Three Stooges episode) definitely does not apply to Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir), whose arrow shorts out a power line, crippling production at an aluminum facility just when a huge deal is being made with China. This introduces us to a tale of eco-terrorism by a “Woman at War.”
You have to love a story about a one woman war against a big corporation that is systematically ruining the environment in Iceland. And, Halldora Geirharosdottir, as Halla, personifies that woman’s resolve, ingenuity and wilderness ability to wreak havoc and elude the manhunt that her actions cause – like stealing a bunch of explosive Semtex and blowing up power line pylons to disrupt aluminum production.
This woman-at-war story has you rooting for our hero but there is much more going on during Halla’s effective campaign against Big Brother. There is an ongoing sad/funny sidebar story of a young Spanish immigrant man on a bicycle whose life is made a living hell because of her fight against authority. There is also a side story about Halla’s twin sister, Asa, who is a significant player in another, entirely unrelated aspect of the story – the adoption of a four-year old Ukrainian orphan girl named Nika.
Writer-producer-director Benedikt Erlingsson, while telling his eco-terrorist story, uses an ingenious way to include the film’s imaginatively handled score. The music, by the way, with a three piece band and a trio of Ukrainian folk singers, works perfectly with the story as it dovetails in different, though connected, directions. I give it a B.
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