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WOMAN AT WAR gets 6.5/10 Self conflict

Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
Starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson


Ecological activism is at the centre of the ‘war’ in this film’s title. The ‘woman’ is Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), who’s adamant about taking down a local aluminum factory, with her efforts extending to destroying their nearby power-lines.

Geirharðsdóttir is an engaging presence, particularly in the film’s lengthy and exciting middle section where we see her most determined and most ambitious eco-warrior action, followed up by her ensuing evasion from the authorities. But this secretive life of hers is interrupted by news that she will soon become the mother of an adopted Ukrainian girl – now she must make the tricky decision to choose between possibly saving her country or definitely changing the life of one young girl.

Halla confesses her internal struggle to her twin sister, Ása, who is oddly enough also played by Geirharðsdóttir. This strange bit of casting seems initially distracting, though its clever pay-off at the film’s climax may seem a little too clever and is likely to raise a few eyebrows over the wonky logistics of this twist.

This central story is intriguing enough, but unfortunately the film’s insistence on flirting with some very self-aware surrealism only subtracts and doesn’t add to the film’s thematic strengths. The musicians behind the very Icelandic music score are at times seen within the film playing the music (or waiting to play) – it’s similar to the frenetic drummer in Birdman, though Woman at War overdoes this cinematic gag so much that it quickly goes from quirky to irritating (and they ramp it up as the film starts to finish).

And yet somehow the film seems to smoosh all its unannoying surrealism and originality into its last few scenes. In fact, its last shot is the highlight, a technical and artistic marvel that encapsulates and caps off the themes well, with the kind of culturally specific surrealism that matches the likes of similarly eccentric filmmakers like Theo Angelopoulos and Emir Kusturica – it’s great to see the film reach such an astounding height in its very last moment, but of course this spike in quality comes too late.

Woman at War is a well intended, and for the most part a well executed, film. It offers up weighty questions and manages to come to the best answers it can provide. It’s just a shame that so much of its importance is diluted through aggravatingly unnecessary surreal moments that may delight and annoy an equal amount of audiences each.


Woman at War plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, December 17 to Sunday, December 23, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Wednesday, December 26 to Sunday, December 30, 8pm.

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