Iceland’s cinematic contribution to the Academy of Motion Pictures this year, for consideration in “Best Foreign Film” is Woman At War (Kona fer í stríð). I went in, not necessarily knowing what to expect, and only really knowing that it had done well at most of the big international film festivals this year. So I’m glad to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how original and beautiful Benedikt Erlingsson’s eco-terrorism comedy is.
I know what you might be thinking…an eco-terrorism…comedy? Yes, that is what I said and believe it or not, it works. Woman At War features Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as Halla, the titular “woman.” She’s in her late 40’s and at the outset of the movie we see her out amid some beautiful mountain terrain, shooting an arrow into the sky. It doesn’t take long to discover she is doing this to disarm the power lines connected to a newly constructed aluminum plant near her home. She is (obviously) a passionate environmentalist that strongly believes in her heart that her actions are saving the planet and her direct surroundings from climate-change disaster.
She escapes arrest with the help of a local farmer named Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) who, due to some interesting occurrence in the family lineage, could be Halla’s “alleged cousin.” He hides her out in his house and tells his very well trained dog Kona (Icelandic for “woman”) to bark to distract the policemen. Halla is safe, for the moment. The police end up picking up a Latinx tourist Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) for the crime, even though he is innocent, and they do it again a couple of more times for good measure.
“…a passionate environmentalist that strongly believes in her heart that her actions are saving the planet.”
Hallah also has a twin sister Ása (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) who is a yoga instructor. Hallah and Ása had both applied to be adoptive mothers at the same time four years prior. Hallah receives notice that there is a young girl from the Ukraine, Nika, who needs a new home, due to losing both of her parents and her grandmother in the war. Hallah decides first, she must shift her priorities away from her environmental mission to becoming a mother. Ása is her custodial back-up.
Of course, things go all kinds of crazy, due to the fact that Hallah is essentially a criminal in the eyes of the law and the crimes she has been committing are beginning to be looked at on an international level, since the Chinese and the Americans are getting involved. Hallah gets backed into a corner, and we see what choices she and all who surround her make, for better or worse.
Woman At War has some of the best cinematography of any film I saw in 2018, courtesy of Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson. Additionally, the art direction from Snorri Freyr Hilmarsson, Lucia Malyshko and Anna Maria Tomasdottir is impeccable. Furthermore, one of the best things about this whole film that I haven’t witnessed since Jonathan Richman’s wonderful role in The Farrelly Brothers’ Something About Mary is the soundtrack literally follows Hallah wherever she goes. There’s a drummer (Magnús Trygvason Eliassen), a sousaphone player (Omar Gudjonsson), a pianist/accordion player (David Thor Jonsson, who also wrote the music) that randomly appears in her living room, or walking alongside her in a field. There is also a trio of women singers in traditional Ukranian dress who show up here and there to accompany the action as well. It’s very refreshing and unique.
“…a script that connects maternal instinct to eco-terrorism and a commentary of racism in the police…”
Lastly, I have to commend Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson for writing a script that connects maternal instinct to eco-terrorism and a commentary of racism in the police department. All this while being funny and not making any of the characters look “bad” per se (except for the establishment, but honestly, that’s a big part of why I like the film).
Woman At War is one of the best films I’ve seen about climate change that isn’t either a documentary or an extremely pedantic horror story. Maybe the people, who need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, will get the message about how dire our environmental crisis is by watching this film, especially its’ final scene. I wish that Woman At War nwas nominated for Best Foreign Film, but we all know that this year’s Oscar race is kind of…absurd anyway. Regardless of that, this film is definitely one to check out.
Woman At War (2018) Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. Written by Ólafur Egilsson and Benedikt Erlingsson. Starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Jörundur Ragnarsson.
8 out of 10 stars