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  Woman at War Listen All Y'All, It's A Sabotage
Year: 2018
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Stars: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Jörundur Ragnarsson, Magnús Trygvason Eliassen, Omar Gudjonsson, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Iryna Danyleiko, Galyna Goncharenko, Susanna Karpenko, Vala Kristin Eiriksdottir
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Adventure, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a woman on a mission. Today she has been out in the countryside of her native Iceland carrying part of that out, as she fires an arrow into the air, attached to a cable, and over some overhead power lines, landing in the ground on the other side. Naturally, the lines spark and hiss, but she goes further and drags them down, breaking the connection and - this is her plan - stopping the electricity reaching the aluminium plant nearby. Halla is an environmental activist working alone who, on seeing the dangers of climate change, has made up her mind to take action and do her utmost to stop the corporate and political efforts to carry on damaging the world...

Woman at War was one of the few Icelandic films to garner a reputation for itself outside of the island nation, mainly thanks to its progressive heroine - or was she an antiheroine? As a saboteur she certainly had her heart in the right place, but could you really endorse her when her methods and goals were not quite as clear cut as she appeared to believe? Would taking down a metalworks actually do anything constructive, or would she have been better to devote her efforts to, say, trying to replant trees or forcing government decisions on environmental matters through a pressure group? You could observe that all the pressure groups on the planet had not prevented the disaster.

But did that mean Halla's violent process, which builds to her actually using Semtex to blow up one of the pylons, all the better to prevent the pollution, was the correct course of action? Watching this as the twenty-tens turned to the twenty-twenties, the main celebrity organiser that everyone would think of would be fellow Scandinavian Greta Thunberg, but even she did not endorse a course of destruction, reasoning there was enough of that already, and besides, she came to prominence as a teenage activist so had a novelty to support her. Halla, on the other hand, is a forty-nine-year-old woman, and middle-aged ladies did not generate huge degrees of headlines in that state of affairs.

Or at least they don't if they keep within the law, which our protagonist stubbornly refuses to do. Films about environmental fighters don't often make for the most compelling of movies, possibly because they are regarded as over-earnest and humourless, but co-writer and director Benedikt Erlingsson had other ideas, possibly inspired by a cult classic novel of another era, Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, which itself had passed through many potential projects to bring it to the screen, all of which up to this stage had floundered and been stranded in development Hell. Woman at War was a different matter, as while it had that book's themes and offbeat humour, it went further with the eccentricity, to the extent this was a music film as well as an adventure drama - but not a musical.

Almost everywhere Halla goes, she is accompanied by a trio of musicians only she can see (though sometimes she seems more aware of them than others), and along with them there is another trio of traditional singers who burst into song, all as a commentary on what we were watching, though what that commentary was would be understood more by Halla than us in the audience. There was more: she has been trying to adopt a Ukranian orphan girl (part of her attempts to help in any way she can, we can see), and she has a twin sister (also Geirharðsdóttir, achieved with seamless visual effects) who has turned inward to heal the world, with meditation and yoga. Then there's the sheep farmer who may or may not be her cousin and assists her in a tight spot or two when the authorities are out to get her. The "war" part of the title was overdoing it, perhaps, but Erlingsson certainly shot the sabotage sequences like a combat movie, and the way this drew up to an ending that was subtly apocalyptic crept up on you, making it grow in the mind significantly. Music by Davíð Þór Jónsson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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