Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Writers: Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson
Starring: Halldora Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada
Genre: Drama / Comedy
Halla (Geirharðsdóttir) is a 50-year-old environmental activist on a one-woman crusade against the local aluminium industry in Iceland. As her actions grow bolder, she is then forced to make some potential life changing decisions when she is finally given the chance to fulfil her lifetime dream of being able to adopt a child.
Climate change and the pollution caused by heavy industry is certainly a very topical subject, and though it features at the centre of the narrative in Woman at War, it is incorporated into the story in the usual way that is to be expected from Icelandic films; with lashings of dry and irreverent humour. This film’s exact stance on the subject is certainly open for debate, as if analysed closely, then the reasons for Halla’s one-woman crusade against the Icelandic aluminium industry are certainly questionable from a logical point of view. However, I leave those with far more knowledge than myself about this subject to debate that. Though there are some conversations between characters that explore the usual themes of corporate greed, there is nothing contained within this film that an English-speaking person willing to watch an Icelandic film will not already know.
However, only Benedikt Erlingsson knows what this film’s exact stance is on the various subjects it raises, but thankfully it never feels patronising or preachy, as there is enough trademark quirky, dry humour (as in his previous film Of Horses and Mean review) as well as a genuinely human story at the centre of the narrative to make sure that Woman at War is a film that is entertaining viewing, and also has enough genuine heart and a protagonist to care about.
In between her personal crusade, Halla also has a wish to become a mother, and this and her relationship with her sister (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) are the emotional lynchpins of the narrative, and within these particular narrative elements are some deeply engaging and emotionally rewarding subplots.She delivers a wonderfully understated performance that is consistent with the film’s style, but also makes her character both intriging and sympathetic.
While there is most definitely some genuine heart within the narrative, it never loses its dry sense of humour that certainly makes sure it remains uniquely Icelandic. Within the narrative is a Hispanic immigrant (played by Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) who constantly gets arrested simply by always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the film’s quirky and supposedly non-diegetic soundtrack is played by a band that not only turns up in every scene playing their instruments that are in the film’s score, but they often do small acts that affect the narrative, such as tweeting or switching on the protagonist’s television (which they then gets rather annoyed with them for doing so). It certainly adds a very entertaining element to an already very entertaining film. This dry tone remains consistent, which means we the audience can never get quite be sure what the film is going to do, which only serves to make it all the more engaging, even up until its very surprising but rewarding final scene.
One of the more unique films of 2019; Woman at War combines sharp, dry humour and genuine heart to be a film that is infinitely watchable, but also deeply engaging.