Three Reasons to Watch: Woman at War
Every week, we pick a key film from the Curzon Home Cinema collection. This week, as the climate crisis finally reaches the top of the political agenda around the world, we travel to Iceland for a brilliant satire that details one woman’s attempts to ensure that her country keeps its carbon footprint to a minimum.
Movies about the environment aren’t a recent phenomenon. From Silent Running (1972) and Soylent Green (1973) through Star Strek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Wall-E (2008), movies have looked at the impact we have had on our world. But few films have taken such a personal perspective on what is to be done with a rapidly changing world as Woman at War.
Benedikt Erlingsson’s superb character study deals with global issues on a local level. It focuses on a pillar of the community who feels that corporate interference in Iceland is likely to impact the land so takes it upon herself to break the law in order to make a statement about the dangers inherent in allowing industry to run amok.
Erlingsson’s previous film, his feature debut, was the wonderfully offbeat Of Horses and Men (2013), which patched together a series of stories involving horses and their owners. Like the subsequent Rams (2014), which was directed by Grímur Hákonarson, Horses detailed the challenges of life in a world that is frozen over for a significant part of the year and, even at the height of summer, is climactically temperamental. Both films balance portraits of rural life with left-field humour that never dominates, but gives each a feeling of uniqueness – much of it drawn from the hardship of life in such a place.
Woman at War also features a similar humour, some of which is provided by the travelling band soundtrack (see below). But unlike the other films, which felt like wider portraits of a community, Erlingsson’s second feature is dominated by an outstanding turn from Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as the titular hero. (Geirharðsdóttir also turns up in a secondary role in the film’s later stages.) Her Halla is a brilliant creation – a joyous presence who is exasperated by companies’ bottom line, which all too often ignores the long-term cost paid by the land she lives on.
Unlike Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (2013), which presents a more sobering account of the dangers posed by eco terrorism, Woman at War takes a more jocular approach, accepting that Halla’s activities are illegal, but suggesting that ‘harmless’ actions may be the only way to make a statement against seemingly unstoppable forces whose claims that they’re acting for the best of everyone are, at best, dubious.
There was a time when people may not have realised that Iceland had a vibrant filmmaking community. But since 101 Reykjavic (2000) became a hit, followed by Noi Albinoi (2003), Jar City (2006), The Deep (2012) and other popular titles, the country has firmly established its cinematic credentials. Woman at War not only offers further proof of this, it is a timely and essential call to arms for anyone worried about the state of the world.
Three reasons to watch Woman at War
• The landscape. Most Icelandic films revel in the stunning views afforded from any point around the island. But seen through Halla’s eyes, the country is vibrantly and thoroughly alive.
• The music. Rather than using a conventional score, Erlingsson has his chamber brass outfit literally follow Halla on her adventure, whether it’s on a street, the side of an open road or in her house. It’s similar to the tactic employed by the calypso band in Paddington (2014), but used far more inventively.
• The issues. The film’s later stages offer a startling coda to the themes presented throughout. Erlingsson doesn’t just engage with implied threat, but shows that many parts of the world are already suffering from the neglect of industrial nations unwilling to heed the warnings that will imperil us all.
Woman at War is available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema