Woman at War is a new Icelandic film from director Benedikt Erlingsson. The movie follows a woman in her forties who sets out to sabotage the Aluminum industry to protect her country from the damage it does on the environment until she receives news of an orphan that she may be able to adopt. It debuted at the 2018 Cannes Critics’ Week and has played other festivals including Toronto and London.
A significant portion of what worked so well with this film was that it had a very surreal feel overall. For example, frequently, an accompaniment band could be seen following around the characters. The movie doesn’t feel the need to explain this, instead just leaving the band as a fun, wacky quirk. This may seem like a small thing, but it definitely goes a long way in making the film more compelling and fun to watch.
Another thing that works in this movie’s favor is its dark sense of humor. There is obviously some humor in the more ridiculous aspects of the film, but there are also some other parts of the script that are quite hilarious. For example, there is a recurring gag about a tourist that is always caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He never fails to elicit a laugh.
The plot serves more as a vessel to deliver the message than anything else. The script doesn’t really do anything to make the protagonist’s rebellious activities particularly complex. This is likely because the point of the movie is that she is an everyday person that is doing extraordinarily impactful things in simple ways.
The characters in the film are very compelling, and that helps make the story more interesting as a whole. The protagonist, Halla, is a complex, rounded character. The arc she experiences over the course of the movie allows her to grow and gain more sympathy from the audience. Many will appreciate her for her noble quest to bring security to her people and her home even if the methods she uses to do so aren’t the most orthodox.
The actors all do a great job in their roles. Halldóra Gerharðsdóttir is excellent in her dual role as the protagonist and her sister. She brings both emotional nuance and humor to the character in a way that is extremely enjoyable to watch. Although the film is largely her show, some people in the supporting cast, like Juan Camillo Roman Estrada and Jóhann Sigurðarson have some moments in which they shine.
In technical terms, the movie is very strong too. Obviously, music plays a huge role in the film because of the band that follows around the characters. The score is relatively complex for such a small instrumentation, with only a tuba player, a percussionist, and someone who switches between accordion and piano. There is also a small trio of singers from time to time. This music goes a long way in setting the tone and overall feel of the movie.
Overall, Woman at War was an impressively-made and enjoyable film. It’s definitely quirky and unusual, though, so if that isn’t your thing, this probably won’t be for you.
Woman at War opens in theaters March 1.