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'Woman' has heart and depth, and fun, too

Woman at War is a wonderful and surprising movie about one person's fight against industry and environmental damage, complete with choir practice and an oompah band.


Woman At War

Stars: 4.5

Starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, David Thor Jonsson, Magnús Trygvason Eliassen, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada and Jörundur Ragnarsson

Written by Ólafur Egilsson and Benedikt Erlingsson

Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson

Rated: PG for violence, substance use, and nudity

Runtime: 101 minutes

Now playing at the Princess Theatre, 10337 82 Ave. in Edmonton

It’s one thing to call somebody an eco-terrorist or a radical environmental activist but it’s another to say they’re simply fighting to stop the egregious injustice of industry taking over a pristine land. If you lived in a place as beautiful as Iceland, then you might have strong feelings about protecting it, too. The unassuming Halla is proof of that.

In Woman at War, Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is engaged in a series of solo sabotage operations against an aluminum plant that will one day ruin the landscape and befoul the fresh air. Often, it seems like she has the upper hand, too, with her David-like unsuspecting demeanour. With a deft archer’s touch, she can stripe a metal wire across high voltage lines, short-circuiting the power going to the factory.

This makes her a Robin Hood figure in her spare time, winning people’s favour across the country, except for that of the police because of the interests of government and big business. To make matters more interesting, she doesn’t have a criminal record and has never been in any trouble. The amiable, middle-aged woman’s day job is choir conductor. She rides a bicycle with a basket and is far from having Olympic-level athleticism, but she is the biggest threat to a major industry in this beautiful and surprising little movie from the tiny island country. I’m reminded of the marvellous Rams, another touching Icelandic tale.

There are moments of surrealist comedy here (the ‘oompah’ musical score and its musicians will certainly win you over) but at its heart, this film is a serious portrayal of one person who just becomes fed up with losing her country by attrition to greater powers. And this film has heart by the ton. After all, this isn’t just a story about the back and forth of this war. We soon learn that Halla has finally been approved to adopt a war orphan from another country. Then, she has even more to fight for and must make serious choices.

Geirharðsdóttir is astonishingly good at not just showing us Halla’s double life but she actually plays two characters here, including Halla’s twin sister, Asa. I think that it might be time for a new World Film Awards to usurp the throne from the Oscars. Even if her name is strange to pronounce, she’d have my vote. And so would director and co-writer Benedikt Erlingsson. This is one of those movies that you just wish would never end.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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