‘Woman At War’ Balances The Sublime and the Subtle of Life at a Crossroad

No matter your walk of life, it’s important to bring passion to everything that you do…

Woman At War is an undeniably quirky and often flat out weird affair, but it has an infectious joi de vivre and a wry sense of humour to itself that you can’t look away from as the film tackles some fairly heavy issues along the way.

Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a fifty-year-old independent woman. But behind the scenes of a quiet routine, she leads a double life as a passionate environmental activist. Known to others only by her alias “The Woman of the Mountain,” Halla secretly wages a one-woman-war on the local aluminum industry. As Halla’s actions grow bolder, from petty vandalism to outright industrial sabotage, she succeeds in momentarily halting the negotiations between the Icelandic government and the corporation building a new aluminum smelter. But right as she begins planning her biggest and boldest operation yet, she receives an unexpected letter that changes everything. Her application to adopt a child has finally been accepted and there is a little girl waiting for her in Ukraine. As Halla prepares to abandon her role as saboteur and savior of the Highlands to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother, she decides to plot one final attack to deal the aluminum industry a crippling blow.

There’s a deadpan sensibility about Woman At War which helps it to succeed as well as it does thanks to a strong leading performance that navigates issues like mid-life soul searching and climate change with a realistic tone of social commentary that is actually entertaining rather than preachy or overly dramatic.

Actor turned Writer/Director Benedikt Erlingsson crafts a narrative here that while very focused on the individual also takes great care in building something around its protagonist that has a genuine sense of whimsy about it as well as there’s a certain degree of grace in its weird simplicity.

Admittedly the main crux of the narrative is fairly simplistic in a cat and mouse, heist game kind of fashion but where Erlingsson (who co-wrote the screenplay) really allows this to grow in the psychological complexities of what is going on in the head of our protagonist.  The direction allows these elements of social commentary and satire intermingle with the more personal ideas of self reinvention in a world that is struggling to keep up with how quickly it is evolving.  Sure it gets a little goofy and out of itself at moments but this film is shockingly smart and appropriately subtle in the ideas that it wants to get across thanks to some exceptional direction not only from a visual standpoint so that we could appreciate the countryside that Halla is trying to save but from a character standpoint as well watching this beloved member of her social circles fight against the injustices that she could feel happening in front of her.

Mild spoiler alert coming up but Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir not only plays Halla but her twin sister Asa as well.  These two sisters are truly their exact polar opposites but in such a way that they fit perfectly together that it really makes for a very interesting performance.  Geirharðsdóttir gets to explore both the Yin and the Yang of this character in a way that we rarely get to see on screen and she makes magic with it managing to be both sympathetic, yet kind of not likable all at the same time.  It takes a rare kind of presence to be able to carry a movie like she does here and she’s the pure anchor of the film.

There’s so much quality work coming out of the Icelandic film scene these days and Woman At War is a strong entry into that canon because while it’s a story about a character in a certain degree of personal and emotional chaos, the execution of it all is bordering on genius because it all probably shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.

Woman At War kicks off at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Friday the 15th before expanding all across the country