WOMAN AT WAR (Kona for i strio) (Iceland/France/Ukraine 2018)***
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
Those who have visited Iceland (myself included) will find extra pleasures in watching the Icelandic film WOMAN AT WAR shot in Icelandic. The residential shots are typical what one would see around Reykjavic and the heroine moves into the countryside where the landscape shows typical Iceland - the barren outcrop, the moss and the hills. Iceland is known as in other Scandinavian countries to be ultra-modern and more ecologically and environmentally friendly so a film that centres on an eco-terrorist is totally appropriate. And a woman at that, makes the film even more politically correct.
The film opens with lots of promise. A middle aged woman later revealed as Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) who conducts the local choir, is in the mountains with a bow and arrow (the modern kind), taking refuge from the police. She takes down a huge transformer pole carrying key power lines causing havoc in outages. Funnily, a Latino tourist nearby gets arrested and blamed for a terrorist act. The story is quite simple, revolving around he woman and later with her new-age twin sister (also played by the same actress). Both sisters are intent to adopt a girl from the Ukraine which explains the film as a Ukrainian co-production.
The only complaint of the film is its predictability, particularly in the story’s main twist. It does not take a genius (I guessed it) to figure what happens when the sister visits Halla in prison, but not everyone is like me, who sees about 400 films a year.
The script co-written by the director with Ólafur Egill Egilsson pokes fun often at Iceland. There are scenes with Halla with her face on moss, common in Iceland’s vegetation. The part about the population of Iceland being so small that everyone is somehow related to each other is used in the film when Halla meets a farmer who hides her. He claims that he could somehow be related, tracing verbally all his ancestral roots. The country’s many sheep is also used to hide Halla from the cops in one scene.
The Chinese are the main villains in the film. They are the lot to blame, taking away the blame from the Icelandic government for the anti-environment projects that Halla is so angry about.
Director Erlingsson utilizes a band of musicians and singers (in Icelandic and in Icelandic native garb) in the background of most scenes to deliver the soundtrack, which gives the film a surreal (Greek Chorus) look, adding to the film’s quirkiness and bit of humour, though the tactic is a bit distracting.
The film premiered at Cannes and won Geirharðsdóttir the Best Actress prize at Montreal/s 2018 Festival of New Cinema. The film was Iceland’s Official Entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar though it did to make the short list. Worth a look for its quirkiness and topicality but nothing really out of the ordinary. But the film won 10 Edda Awards (Icelandic Film Awards) including the coveted Best Film, Best Actress and Best Director and Best Cinematography prizes.