Jul 16, 2019
Welcome back for our second Certified Fresh film this week, this time a feature from Iceland, along with the French and Ukraine film scenes. We don’t get many films from Iceland, but they are generally very good. For a couple others, check out “22 July” (Episode #286) and “And Breathe Normally” (Episode #373). If you have any suggestions from Iceland, let us know by any means possible! We’re always interested in exploring international cinema!
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Woman At War”, the Icelandic activist drama directed by Benedikt Erlingsson and written for the screen in collaboration with Ólafur Egilsson. The film follows Halla (Halldóra Geirhar∂sdóttir), an environmental activist intent on shutting down a local alumninum plant infringing on the highlands. However, when the offer to adopt a child comes into her life, she must reevaluate her passions and her priorities. Apologies in advance for my Icelandic pronunciations.
When I’m setting the schedule for One Movie Punch, I like to check out Certified Fresh films that become available on streaming services, especially those with limited showings at the theater. I don’t mind paying full price at the theater based on a consensus score like Rotten Tomatoes, because it supports the local business. But it gets more difficult justifying a $6 rental based on scores alone, not because there aren’t any choices, but because there are too many. Ideally, I’d like to rent them all, but choosing among them is difficult. And there are so many freely available on the major streaming services. So, when I stumble across a film like today’s, it feels like finding a buried treasure, one I would have happily paid to see in the theaters, and would recommend to anyone who enjoys movies.
Writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson, with co-writer Ólafur Egilsson, have created something truly unique, a surrealistic look at the modern day, based on a plausible story, and delivered with excellent composition and bold style choices. Throughout the film we’re brought through a world full of beautiful landscapes and strong characters, presented with excellent framing and filters. The music is excellent as well, but I don’t want to spoil how it plays into the film. I will say, however, it is one of two pins that hold this entire film together.
The other pin is Halldóra Geirhar∂sdóttir, playing both the
protagonist, Halla, and her twin sister Ása, who has a supporting
role. From the very beginning, we know everything we need to know
about Halla. Her ethos. Her mission. Her style and grace and
intelligence and charm. All told within a short time, in a classic
opening mission for any war film. Halla is obsessed with fighting a
war against climate change, on the small scale by preventing a
foreign corporation from taking control of the local aluminum
plant, with the hopes of shutting it down completely if possible.
Her entire journey, in her war against the plant, and her hopes of
becoming a mother via adoption, feels genuine and natural.
It’s only much later that we’re introduced to Ása, and every time except the last time, she acts as both a mirror and a sounding board. Ása, her twin sister, is focused more on herself, as a yoga teacher and spiritual mentor, believing that by changing herself, she can change the entire world. They present two very different looks at the problems of today. They also represent the struggles some of us have within ourselves, between wanting to be selfish and self-indulgent, but also wanting to help our families, communities, and even the world if we can. Geirhar∂sdóttir is excellent in both roles, and Erlingsson uses excellent editting to capture both characters on screen, and convincingly conversing with one another, so much so that I thought they had to be two different actors.
The film is more than another character study, however. Erlingsson and Egilsson clearly have a lot to say with this film. While Halla and Ása represent our internal conflicts, the world around them represents the larger external conflicts and threats to our present and future. Erlingsson makes great use of space and place, using television broadcasts to magnify larger themes, the Icelandic countryside for gorgeous shots, and an excellent epilogue that ties everything together, and is a foreboding look at one possible future. And all told with a wry smile the entire way through.
“Woman At War” is a surrealistic look at the climate crisis, as told through one woman’s quest to fight back against the forces destroying the environment. Halla is excellent as both the lead and a supporting role, committing to each character well, while director Erlingsson composes a unique and engaging film-making style you have to see to believe. Fans of films about the climate crisis, or fans of stories with just enough surrealism, should definitely check out this film. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to break out the old sousaphone!
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
Metacritic: 81 (MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 9.4/10
“Woman At War” (2018) is not rated and is currently playing on Hulu.