How can we save ourselves if we cannot save the world? What a stunning, magical, light, urgent, necessary movie is “Woman at War.” Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War” (Kona fer í stríð), a comic portrait of an eco-activist (known to the public only as “The Woman of the Mountain”) who, with bow and arrow commits industrial sabotage, repeatedly smiting high-power lines that supply electricity to an environmentally suspect aluminum smelting plant in the Icelandic countryside.
But that’s not her public life: fifty-year-old Halla cycles Reykjavik, leads a choir, alternates between beguiling, beaming smiles and the most serious of concern for her small country. (She is also accompanied by a Ukrainian band whose music inspires her, but no one, including Halla, notices them; the simple giddiness will do, while Erlingsson cites Brecht and his “Verfremdung.”) Halldóra Geirharosdóttir is fierce and soft, warm and hard, merely great. She’s alert, alive, even titanic in this quietly thrilling three-ring circus. In terms of shooting locations, this action comedy starring Iceland’s leading stage actress as the embodiment of mother nature, it’s also the most Icelandic-feeling of Icelandic movies I’ve seen in ages: sky, field, city streets, and of course that would be Hallgrímskirkja, the towering Church of Iceland, behind her head as she cycles down Laugavegur, rounding a fine chunk of 101 Reykjavik on her swirl home.
Erlingsson combines soaring landscapes with the vernacular streets and everyday motions of Icelandic life to sweet result. A turn in Halla’s life raises the stakes of “Woman at War,” both personally and for her double life, pushing the ambitious entertainment in further directions. And as for what the veteran actor, director and showman thinks “Woman of War” is finally about? The world? Halla’s inner world? The end of the world? Individual responsibility to intervene in what ways possible to forestall the end of the world? “This is a film about a woman striving to be a real person.” Among other high-profile local names: comedian and former Reykjavik mayor Jón Gnarr plays the (ceremonial) President of Iceland. 100m. 2.35 Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Woman at War” is playing at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.