Woman at War

There tends to be three broad categories of films in terms of the audience who watches them. The first category is the crowd-pleasing kind of film. The second category is where films are made as art. The third category blends the two previous categories. Woman at War is a film that belongs in the third category.

The film follows an environmental activist named Halla as she declares war on the aluminum industry in Iceland. Her life becomes more complicated when she learns that her request to adopt a child has come through and she has to balance the obligation she faces as an environmental activist with her new duty to become an adoptive mother.

The film is a strange marriage of tones and genres that shouldn’t work on paper, but is executed pretty brilliantly. It’s simultaneously an offbeat comedy, an intense thriller, a statement on climate change and sustainability, and a character drama all at the same time.

What keeps the film together is the main character, Halla. This character is so interesting to watch. When you first see her on screen, she’s knocking out the power lines that lead to an aluminum smelter and hugging the Earth as she runs through the Icelandic terrain. It’s excellent visual storytelling that reveals so much about the character, and is such a great way to introduce her. As the film progresses, this character drives so much of the story and changes quite a bit. She feels the pressure of her actions weighing on her throughout the film, and it leads her down a more extreme path to get what she wants. She is always on the edge of being caught, and that conflicts with her desire to adopt a child. This dynamic gives the film personal stakes, and it grounds the overarching conflict concerning environmental collapse and sustainability.

The film’s offbeat comedy is another great aspect that keeps it grounded. While it’s possible the film could have decided to go for a darker route and keep the tone serious the whole time, it helps that the film doesn’t take itself overly seriously. The offbeat tone makes the serious nature of the topics it discusses more easily digestible and it also makes the film much less dreary and more watchable. The comedy itself is also very unique, with multiple recurring motifs such as musicians playing the film’s score on screen or a Hispanic tourist getting accidentally arrested by the Icelandic police multiple times. It’s very entertaining and it adds an extra layer to the film’s style.

The film also does a great job of addressing the issue of climate change and environmental collapse. Despite the film being small-scale in nature, it makes the conflict feel larger than the way it’s presented through small tricks. Whenever characters have conversations, they keep their phones in the freezer to prevent the government from overhearing their conversations. They have news broadcasts and radio commentators talking about Halla’s actions. There is a great sequence where Halla is releasing her manifesto, and the way the social media firestorm is depicted is incredibly effective and well done.

Perhaps the most unique aspect to the film is that it’s not just a blanket statement that ends the discussion at “climate change is bad.” It actually explores the ramifications of Halla’s actions and whether or not she is a hero for taking such drastic actions against the industry. It’s an interesting discussion of whether extremism is a valid form of protest and a valid method to get an opinion heard by the government. Halla never hurts anyone with her actions, but should her actions still be considered terrorism? Personally, I would say no, but the film leaves enough up for interpretation that someone else can have a different opinion on Halla. The best way to discuss a heady topic in a film is to keep the discussion going long after the film ends, and Woman at War is successful at doing that.

The film is also technically on point. It’s so smoothly edited, and the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not a perfect film: the third act meanders a little too much. But Woman at War is a very ambitious and well executed film that explores a lot in a short span of time. Whenever the film is released in the US, I would highly recommend checking it out. I’m giving this film a solid 8/10.