Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Woman at War – smart, funny, quirky and possibly the best action film of the year (QFT from 10 May) #bff19

Woman at War could be my action film of the year. On the surface, Halla conducts a community choir, choosing beautiful folk ballads for her friendly singers to rehearse. Her flat is decorated with portraits of heroes like Mandela and Gandhi. Underneath the model-citizen veneer lurks an eco-activist who takes direct action against the government’s plans to expand the aluminium-smelting plant to take on Chinese orders. She treks across the bleak landscape with a bow, firing a metal cable across the high-tension electrical lines to short out the power.

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir plays the conflicted woman at the heart of the film, torn between an opportunity to adopt a Ukrainian orphan and taking her environmental campaign to the next stage. Geirharðsdóttir portrays a warm and easy-going nature that attracts people to help her character, whether in the choir or her outdoor excursions. The talented actress also plays the role of Halla’s sister Åsa.

Jóhann Sigurðarson plays the farmer Sveinbjörn, perhaps a distant cousin, upon whom she grows to rely, while Juan Camillo pops up as a hapless foreign backpacker – wrong time, wrong place – who is persecuted by the authorities, blaming him for much of Halla’s disruption.

Icelandic films often enjoy off-beat humour and a crazy sense of creativity. Benedikt Erlingsson, director of Woman at War, does not disappoint. Much of the film’s quirky score is performed live on-screen by a band (sousaphone, drums and accordion/piano) that pop up in the most remote and intimate locations while the Halla wanders past. The irony of running out of battery power under an enormous pylon is magical. The nipple badge pinned to Halla’s coat gives her the feel of an Amazonian warrior.

The scenes of Halla disguising her infra-red footprint and battling all manner of flying surveillance are worthy of a Bond film. Halla certainly tolds true to her her mother’s two pieces of advice: “Moms can do anything” and “Find solutions”.

The cataclysmic climate-conscious climax is apt. Challenging society’s environmental concern that is more tempered by profit than stewardship of the earth as well as a nod to modern surveillance culture, Woman at War asks what we can do “to save future generations”, individually or en masse.

Woman at War is smart, funny, very quirky, and was screened in Queen’s Film Theatre as part of Belfast Film Festival. While Jodie Foster has signed up to direct and star in an English-language remake, watch out for the Icelandic original when it gets a UK cinema release and returns to Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 10–Thursday 16 May.

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