Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir stars as Halla in "Woman at War." // Photo by Benedikt_Erlingsson; courtesy of Mongrel Media

Review: Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War

Woman at War
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson; Princess Theatre; Opens Fri., Mar. 22; Icelandic with subtitles.
Our Score
5

If you like humour, strong female characters, and great soundtracks, then Woman at War is the film for you.

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir gives an amazing performance as both the protagonist, choir director/eco-activist Halla, and her twin sister Ása, a yoga instructor. When she’s not running around sabotaging an industrial factory to protect the Icelandic highlands and putting the country’s politicians on high alert, Halla is preparing to become a mom, as her request for adoption has suddenly and unexpectedly born fruit in the form of a four-year-old orphan from the Ukraine.

Director Benedikt Erlingsson co-wrote the script with Ólafur Egill Egilsson, and they did a great job writing a story about a soon-to-be mother that didn’t automatically turn into a narrative of self-sacrifice. In other words, Halla’s immediate reaction is not “What will I have to give up?” and Geirharðsdóttir’s portrayal of the character is not significantly altered by the news that she will be receiving a child.

Throughout the film, the viewer gets a sense of Halla’s strength: she is physically strong, as demonstrated by her running across the highlands, and she’s also skilled at archery, good with tools, highly intelligent and diligent, cool under pressure, and charismatic and charming enough to enlist the help of others when she needs to. She’s a woman in her 40s, and she is a badass.

Halla also seems to be unique in her universe, interacting with the musicians and singers who provide the film’s soundtrack. A three-piece band—a drummer (Magnús Trygvason Eliassen), a pianist/accordion player (David Thor Jonsson), and a sousaphone player (Omar Gudjonsson)—and a trio of Ukrainian choir singers (Iryna Danyleiko, Galyna Goncharenko, and Susanna Kurpenko) pop up on screen occasionally, adding moments that feel more like music videos. At first, it seems that only the audience ‘sees’ the musicians and singers are there, but they occasionally take part in the action and interact with Halla. In fact, towards the film’s climax, there is a moment where she spots the drummer and this warns her that something—probably not a good something from the look on her face—is about to happen.

Woman at War provides great humour, a solid story, and wonderfully realized characters, and on top of that does interesting things with its visuals and soundtrack—both in combination and individually. This film should be on your must-see list.

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