Cannes Film Festival Focus: Our Review of ‘Woman at War’ on MUBI

Posted in Mubi by - May 21, 2023
Cannes Film Festival Focus: Our Review of ‘Woman at War’ on MUBI

Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) wants to do more to help the world. Four years prior, she applies to be an adoptive mother for Ukrainian orphans but agencies saw her and her twin sister Asa (also Geirharðsdóttir) as too old. The present day of Benedikt Erlingsson’sWoman At War has agencies loosening their restrictions to allow them to be mothers. Halla attends a meeting with a sense of worry on her face but for a different reason. The woman she was four years ago is different to her now, a woman who occassionally participates in eco-terrorism. Will she successfully bring down the foreign-owned aluminum industry in her home country of Iceland, or will authorities catch her and cause an orphan to lose an adoptive parent? And will a strange man in rural Iceland who may be her second cousin (Jóhann Sigurðarson) help her when she needs it?

Woman At War makes viewers wonder what a person does if they’re hiding the fact that they’re a terrorist. It’s good that the film chooses the smiple route of Halla defending someone who, during most of the film, is an anonymous entity who calls herself The Mountain Woman. What makes this decision good is that it shows both sides of a debate and warrants both sides’ existence. Representing the other side of the debate is Asa, who believes that violence is not the answer no mater what. It makes sense that Asa takes such a stand, a yoga instructor who thinks it’s better to look inward. There’s a cold reserve to these characters even if they do dreastic things to fight for their beliefs. And in a way, this crispness reverberates through the rest of the film’s fictional worldbuilding and its sensibilities.

There’s a lot more to Woman At War‘s worldbuilding while still presenting a coherent final product. There are characters who may or may not figure into the big picture. They’re just like people in real life. Or the foreigner who takes the fall for Halla’s acts. This is a comment, probably, on how different people within an ingroup have varying opinions on which outsiders are harmful and which aren’t. There’s the band following the characters around. They play music obvioysly, adding the right amount of tension to this genre hybrid. This film also works will within the context within which it exists, the real Iceland with its history of magical creatures whom many contemporary citizens still respect. A country which sees change in tragicomic ways. A country of fighter and helpers that we cheer on despite of their complexities.

Watch Woman at War on MUBI.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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