One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Director Benedikt Erlingsson wants to show audiences the lines that blur that ambiguous distinction. His film, Woman at War, follows a woman hell-bent on taking down corporate wrongdoers. Erlingsson’s clever picture is beautifully filmed, often funny, and features two knockout performances from its lead, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a mild-mannered choir director with a secret identity. She is also the eco-terrorist known to authorities as “The Mountain Woman.” We first meet her out on a mission, bow in hand, ready to start some $#!t – think Rambo in a knit sweater. Big corporations are destroying Iceland’s beautiful landscapes and Halla sees herself as looking out for “the people.” She uses her bow to take down power lines that connect to a local smelting factory and a brown-skinned man is immediately collared for the crime. Screenwriters Ólafur Egilsson and Erlingsson come at Halla’s freedom fighting from a fresh angle, depicting the privilege that goes into taking up righteous causes.
Woman at War’s most notable quirk is its reliance on diegetic music. A trio of apparition-like musicians move through scenes undetected and provide the film’s score. At other times, three Ukrainian folk singers appear and sing. The technique begs viewers to step back and consider the film’s subtext.
Woman at War is an insightful social commentary that touches on hero complexes, privilege, othering foreigners, and self-sacrifice. Erlingsson neatly ties all these messages together in a gripping narrative populated with memorable characters.