Halla is a middle-aged women who has declared war on the aluminum industry to prevent it from ruining her country. She is pulling down electrical poles as fast as she can to destroy infrastructure. It isn’t long before she is being hunted by law enforcement, but despite this she continues her eco-terrorist activities.
Soon drones are deployed as well as men on foot, but they don’t know who they are looking for. Hiding in plain site, Halla is a smiling conductor at the local church and popular in her hometown. When the law comes close, friends help her hide as drones look for anything suspicious. Her warm smile hides the eco-terrorist who is pulling down electrical poles and shooting down drones, willingly taking on a heavy load. Her beliefs that we aren’t looking after our planet are deep seeded, and she becomes particularly defensive when she hears others talk negatively about her actions.
These beliefs, as well as her intent, are thrown into the mainstream when she writes a manifesto and climbs a tall building, throwing copies into the streets below. What may have seemed right at the time attracts the attention of the US, and soon the drones are joined by helicopters, looking for any individual within a close proximity to important power lines. The increasingly vehement hunt forces her to take more drastic actions to hide from the thermal imaging cameras used.
After the world is aware of her manifesto, it is amazing how real the various news clips are, as we hear of her actions on news programs, all shaping opinions rather than providing information. The intensity of the music rises in one scene as she walks past a store selling TVs – all tuned to different news stations, all focused on her actions and what she plans to do. More importantly, they focus on the negative consequences of what she is doing, not to mention a general demonisation of her character. Nothing we hear is objective.
This film isn’t biased. Some of Halla’s actions might be seen as a political statement, but she doesn’t speak much about what she wants regarding this; where she wants it all to go. She simply feels
In the midst of this is the fact that, four years after she applied, she is told that she is able to adopt a small, lonely child from Ukraine, something she had almost forgotten entirely.
Halla sees herself as a caretaker despite being labelled as a criminal and a terrorist. She protects her homeland from large corporations setting up shop in her backyard, and longs to care for a human too. When the young child comes into her life, she seems to lose interest in her political beliefs. She first wanted to protect her country, but when a child is suddenly dropped into her life, her interest and effort becomes focused on that child. Nothing else matters.
The film looks incredible, with many shots of the picturesque valleys of Iceland contrasted by a whirring drone or a noisy helicopter, interrupting the beauty of the nature Halla wants to preserve. And that is the true intent of the film, if it has one. To preserve nature. To interrupt the deals of corporations wanting to abuse the land of beautiful countries for profit. To preserve the life of a young girl who has no one else. To be a mother, in any sense.
The sound design is perfect, exemplified by the aforementioned scene where she walks past different television sets: the music intensifying appropriately. When needed the music always fits the tension, but on other occasions the music is sometimes presented in a quite bizarre, very dry and absurd way.
Occasionally, there are scenes where the men playing the instruments actually come into view, almost always with extremely deadpan looks on their faces, as if what is happening is perfectly normal. It is hard not to find this amusing, and as Halla’s situation becomes increasingly desperate, when the musicians appear again, their faces show the slightest amount of interest, as if what is happening isn’t anything of important significance. And why would they show interest when Halla acts as if they aren’t there! This is Scandinavian humour at its finest.
This character study of Halla, or The Mountain Woman as the media dubs her, is intricate and multilayered, with some of her beliefs seeming to be at odds with others. For most of the film she never seems content, as if she is internally arguing with herself. Her motives seem obvious but despite being in nearly every scene, we never really get to know her
One drawback that some cuts between scenes are confusing and force the viewer to think hard about what it happening, and where they are chronologically. Challenging is the best way to describe this film as a whole as we don’t get to know any characters. Not to mention: is it political? A comedy? All of the above and more? This multicoloured film is another gem from Iceland, whose films have a certain mood and sense of humour to them. This is no exception as it takes these concepts and runs to the hills.
An interesting and very Scandinavian flick, Woman at War is hard to pin down. Is it a political statement? Is it satire drenched in absurdist overtones? Or are the filmmakers having fun with a bizarre concept? It is at times funny, emotional, tense, and while it is hard to say whether the film truly has a political statement to make, the film is determined to stand out. It achieves this with ease.
One short of a full sixer.
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