Film Review: Woman At War

Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War is an entertaining, thought-provoking and feel-good tale. 

Halla is an unlikely eco terrorist. A middle-aged choir mistress, Halla is hellbent on disrupting the aluminium industry from damaging the environment in Iceland. Planning her most daring crusade yet, Halla receives some unexpected news…

Focusing on protagonist Halla and her attempts to sabotage a new industrial plant funded by the Chinese, Woman at War combines a thriller with aspects of drama and comedy. Director and co-writer Benedikt Erlingsson (alongside co-writer Ólafur Egilsson) should be praised for being able to flip from the extraordinary to the mundane whilst maintaining a particular tone. The film is well paced, and offers a satisfying conclusion. 

Feeding into this is the portrayal of the protagonist. Halla seems like an unlikely candidate for eco-terrorist. Yet it is precisely because she can slip under the radar, an unassuming choir master who moonlights in sabotage, that she is so successful in what she does. The narrative plays out well. Erlingsson teases at what Halla is up to before revealing more as the film progresses. There are some very amusing moments, which are executed in deadpan fashion. Likewise, Woman at War’s more heartfelt moments feel sincere; there has been enough character development to warrant an emotional response. 

The use of diagetic sound in Woman at War is most unusual. Instead of an overlayed score, the musicians are present in scene, although ignored by characters. This quirk proves interesting in tight spaces. The use of traditional music and singing is a nice touch, feeding into the theme of a return to the traditional. The lead performance from Halldóra Geirharõsdóttir is most convincing. The cinematography captures landscape in a natural way; sometimes beautiful but often unforgiving. 

Woman at War tackles a very contemporary issue in an intelligent, and often amusing way. Erlingsson shows his talents with this latest feature. 

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