Woman at War

 

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A new work from a markedly individual filmmaker.

 

Woman at War

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

 

The very title, Woman at War, is indicative of a strong drama and that seems to be supported further when you read about this film's subject matter. This Icelandic tale is centred on Halla, a 49-year-old woman played by an actress named Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir famous in that part of the world for her stage work. Halla is an activist first encountered before the title appears on screen: it's a scene that finds her engaged in an act of sabotage knocking out power lines. Intensely aware of what is happening to the earth's environment, she will go out alone to take action such as this in order to challenge huge industrial plants using aluminium which are currently the subject of negotiations with the Chinese. At the same time Halla, a single woman, learns that after a long delay an application that she had made to adopt a child looks set to come to fruition. It turns out that the child available is a four-year-old from the Ukraine and it is stressed that she has been orphaned by war losing both her parents and having been found beside the corpse of her grandmother.

 

Given that subject matter, it is unexpected to find that Woman at War plays as an absurdist comedy even if the tone never hides its serious underlying intent. However, that is less surprising when you know that this film is the work of Benedikt Erlingsson as director and co-writer. He made a hit with his 2013 feature debut Of Horses and Men a film of grisly moments despite its threads of humour and, while he has a strong eye for cinematic images, it is fair to say that both of these films mark him out as an artist who is decidedly quirky. The tone here is more consistently light than in the earlier piece and a special feature is made of the fact that musicians first heard off-screen subsequently appear in person playing away indoors and out, just as the music of the choir which Halla conducts is featured both naturalistically and as background sounds (we first hear them just after her attack on the power lines performing what is described as 'A Spring Song'). Our heroine has a sister into yoga and mysticism (this provides a second role for the very talented Geirhardsdóttir) and she is helped to elude the authorities by a cousin (Jóhann Sigurdarson) while the other main character is a luckless foreigner who, in a running gag, keeps being arrested on suspicion of carrying out the acts for which Halla is responsible.

 

If Aki Kaurismäki often idiosyncratically puts the comic side by side with the serious, Erlingsson goes further in that, despite a last shot that smacks of foreboding, he more or less consistently lets the whole of this tale unfold with his individual humour to the fore. But it rarely made me laugh and I was left wishing that Woman at War had indeed played out as a drama. But you may disagree and Erlingsson does his own thing with utter assurance while the climax featuring Holla and her sister is a strong one because totally unexpected.

 

Original title: Kona fer í stríð.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurdarson, Jörundur Ragnarsson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Margaryta Hilska.

 

Dir Benedikt Erlingsson, Pro Marianne Slot, Benedikt Erlingsson and Carine Leblanc, Screenplay Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson, Ph Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, Pro Des Snorri Freyr Hilmarsson, Ed David Alexander Corno, Music Davíd Thór Jónsson, Costumes Sylvia Dögg Halldórsdóttir.

 

Slot Machine & Gulldrengurinn/Solar Media Entertainment/Köggull Filmworks/Vintage Pictures-Picturehouse Entertainment.
100 mins. France/Iceland/Ukraine/Denmark. 2018. Rel: 3 May 2019. Cert. 12A.