“Woman at War,” directed by Benedikt Erlingsson (“Of Horses and Men”), is a quirky offbeat tale of a Quixotic rebel. The film’s deadpan tone is disarming, but the actor Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is so magnetic as the protagonist that you end up rooting for her all the way. She commands the screen.
Halla (Geirharðsdóttir) is a single woman who despairs of technology and big business. Often donning a red scarf, she immobilizes power lines with a power saw and a bow and arrow.
Halla is not your typical angry “eco-terrorist”. She cheerfully knocks out blocks of power and then just as contentedly resumes her work conducting a choir. The members love her.
The Icelandic authorities don’t know for certain whether Halla is to blame. At first they go after an enthusiastic socialist (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) who just happens to be at the wrong place at the time.
The police try to catch Halla but they are inept, seemingly always two steps behind. The helicopter is just about to get close, only to find nothing and suddenly vanish.
There is a pesky drone that is bound and determined to track Halla but it wobbles and whines like a famished mosquito. Halla smashes it to bits.
Halla has an identical twin (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) who is a yoga instructor with a penchant for India.
Out of the blue, Halla gets a letter regarding an adoption opportunity that causes her to question her past choices.
At times it is hard to gauge the tone of the film, although this is quite intentional. The comic and the melancholy are blended together as life often reveals.
Odd it is to hear the film’s soundtrack. only to see without warning a kind of polka jazz band that hits the bass drum and blows on the tuba. In addition to the silliness of “Blazing Saddles,” these moments echo the films of Lindsay Anderson, specifically “O Lucky Man!” (1973), making the statement that Halla is starring in a film of her own making, through her actions and intent.
Day in and day out, Halla slugs through the countryside shorting out any tower she can find. Halla’s sister Asa tells her that she must follow her rebellious path although—to Asa— it is somewhat less meaningful than her own.
Government worker Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) rails at Halla and soon she has nowhere to turn.
Should Halla give up in light of a sudden life opportunity or does the call of motherhood pale in light of the earth’s ecological peril?
In marked contrast to Zal Batmanglij’s surreal yet stern “The East,” this film is arrestingly light in tone though there are some eerie parallels to Jordan Peele’s “Us.”
The color red aims to even the score.
Though the musical breaking of the “fourth wall” might dilute the spell to some (along with the sudden transitions from the comic to the serious and back again) Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is a wonder. “Woman at War” is an unusual film, an environmental meditation that belongs alongside films such as “Leave No Trace,” “O, Lucky Man!” and “The East.”
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org