“WOMAN AT WAR” — 3 stars — Halldora Geirharosdottir, Johann Siguroarson, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Margaryta Hilska; not rated; running time: 100 minutes; Broadway
SALT LAKE CITY — Halla is more motivated than your run-of-the-mill environmental activist.
When we meet her in the film “Woman at War,” she's hiking through rural Iceland, taking out remote power lines. Convinced that her government’s industrial negotiations with China will ruin Iceland and contribute to worldwide climate issues, Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir) is waging a one-woman war against the advances of heavy industry.
That's the basic premise of Benedikt Erlingsson's quirky, amusing and at times thoughtful film about an Icelandic woman forced to choose between two passions.
Halla’s efforts have made her paranoid — she’s constantly putting her smartphone in the refrigerator and worrying about surveillance — but they aren’t 100 percent anonymous. While on the run from her fifth sabotage attack, she gets help from a farmer named Sveinbjorn (Johann Siguroarson), who deduces that they are likely cousins. Halla also gets periodic advice from Baldvin (Jorundur Ragnarsson), a member of her local choir who works in the government and keeps her one step ahead of her pursuers.
As publicity for Halla’s efforts increases — she eventually becomes known as “the Mountain Woman” — Baldvin argues that it’s time for her to shut down operations, issue a manifesto and let the cause grow organically. While Halla would normally never consider backing down, a new development makes Baldvin’s argument feel timely: Four years ago, Halla submitted an adoption application. Now, she's received word that a Ukrainian girl has suddenly become available.
Young Nika (Margaryta Hilska) lost both of her parents to war and seems like a perfect match for the strong-willed Halla. But as Halla moves forward on both of her major fronts, the two passions become difficult to reconcile. Halla had planned on referencing her twin sister Asa (also played by Geirharosdottir) as an auxiliary caretaker for the adoption, but Asa, who is unaware of the eco-terrorism, is planning to join a convent in India. And when Halla decides to follow through with Baldvin’s idea and issue her manifesto, the government takes control of the issue with a media spin job that inspires Halla to ramp up the intensity of her campaign.
“Woman at War’s” story is interesting enough on its own, but Erlingsson’s quirky execution further elevates the unique material. Throughout the film, a pair of musical groups — in one case, a three-piece tuba band, and elsewhere, a female vocal trio — perform the soundtrack’s cues on screen. At times, the characters even acknowledge they are there, as if the musicians are part of their subconscious. There’s also a funny subplot about a bike-riding tourist who keeps getting arrested for Halla’s attacks by constantly being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The light tone has a way of diffusing what could be a much more confrontational message — making it easier to relate — and a clever ending caps off what should be an interesting option for local foreign film fans. Overall, “Woman at War” manages to use a broad scale to examine a very intimate subject.3 comments on this story
Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson’s notable cinematography is subtle and expansive, capturing the beauty of the Icelandic landscape while muting it in a color palette that seems to keep everything in a state of eternal overcast.
The resulting product says a lot more about the passions we connect to our values rather than evaluating the values themselves, and explores our willingness to sacrifice for what we believe in.
Rating explained: “Woman at War” is not rated and would generally be acceptable for all audiences were it not for an odd locker room scene at Halla and Asa’s local pool, which contains quite a bit of female nudity in the background.