Woman at War (4 stars)

Woman at War

GFF 2019: Immensely enjoyable Icelandic comedy about an environmental activist

Heroes come in all shapes and guises; in Benedikt Erlingsson's rousing follow-up to the sublimely silly Of Horses and Men the rebel with a noble cause is ostensibly respectable choir conductor Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir). This 50-year-old environmental activist is rare in her conviction, courage and competence and, as she single-handedly takes on the might of the aluminium industry, shows herself to be a true force to be reckoned with.

The opening sequence shows Halla, armed with a bow and arrow, taking down the local power lines (for the fifth time apparently) before masterfully evading capture using her knowledge of the Icelandic highlands. Conflict arises when, in the midst of her campaign of action, which has the world watching, Halla's long-gestating adoption application comes to fruition. Out of the blue she is matched with a four-year-old Ukrainian girl named Nika, a claim supported by her twin sister Ása (also played by Geirharðsdóttir).

The film never really digs down into how easily someone with such a staunch sense of self and purpose could reinvent themselves as a parent, but Geirharðsdóttir shows us beautifully Halla's innate longing for a child, and what this extraordinary woman would be capable of as a mother is overwhelmingly evident.

Meanwhile, Erlingsson's love of the absurd and flair for visual humour in particular is a consistent delight. The mischievous score is played out onscreen by musicians and folk singers who pop up in the strangest of places (including on a rooftop) and whose presence Halla occasionally acknowledges. Juan Camillo Roman Estrada's luckless tourist from Of Horses and Men returns, only to be constantly scapegoated for Halla's crimes. And there's a charming, understated supporting turn from Jóhann Sigurðarson as Halla's eventual accomplice, the shepherd Sveinbjörn, who may or may not be her second cousin.

Co-written with Ólafur Egilsson, this immensely enjoyable, highly eccentric film is a crowdpleaser in the very best senses, being both inspiring and uplifting; at points it's hard to resist the impulse to cheer. Alongside considerable frivolity, Woman at War packs a genuine emotional punch, while showing what some people are willing to sacrifice for the good of us all.

Screening on Sat 23 and Tue 26 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019. Selected release from Fri 3 May.

Woman at War

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Iceland / France / Ukraine
  • 1h 41min
  • Directed by: Benedikt Erlingsson
  • Cast: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada
  • UK release: 3 May 2019

Halla (Geirharðsdóttir) is a 50-year-old environmental activist who takes on the aluminium industry, but whose ability to campaign is disrupted when her long-gestating adoption application comes through. Erlingsson’s love of the absurd and flair for visual humour is a delight and it’s immensely enjoyable and highly…

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