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Sunday April 14, 2019 4:00 pm
Rainbow Theatre, Northumberland Mall, Cobourg

woman at warHalla is a fifty-year-old independent woman. But behind the scenes of a quiet routine, she leads a double life as a passionate environmental activist. Known to others only by her alias "The Woman of the Mountain," Halla secretly wages a one-woman-war on the local aluminum industry. As Halla's actions grow bolder, from petty vandalism to outright industrial sabotage, she succeeds in pausing the negotiations between the Icelandic government and the corporation building a new aluminum smelter. But right as she begins planning her biggest and boldest operation yet, she receives an unexpected letter that changes everything. Her application to adopt a child has finally been accepted and there is a little girl waiting for her in Ukraine. As Halla prepares to abandon her role as saboteur and saviour of the Highlands to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother, she decides to plot one final attack to deal the aluminum industry a crippling blow.

Cast: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, David Thor Jonsson, Magnus Trygvason Eliasen
Directed By: Benedikt Erlingsson
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Absurdist Comedy
Runtime: 101 minutes
Language: Icelandic


by John Bleasdale

woman at war5For the Icelandic authorities, wary that a deal with China might go south if the sabotage continues, Halla is nothing more than a terrorist. The public are largely indifferent when not hostile and even her yoga-teaching identical twin sister Ása (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) is critical of the Mountain Woman – as Halla’s secret alter ego has been dubbed by the media – seeking her own solution in inner peace and a year-long meditation retreat in India rather than supporting guerrilla activism.

Everything is further complicated when a letter arrives informing Halla that a longed-for adoption of a Ukrainian orphan is now going through. The scene in which she shares her news with the choir she leads has such human warmth it jerks the tears in the best possible way. Now, though, her personal-versus-political dilemma is set. Can she complete her work, scuttling the energy deal, before picking up her new daughter? Or should she abandon it with the chances of motherhood so tantalisingly close and the risk of capture and jail so great? Or is the existence of the child further motivation for her activities to protect the future of the environment?

woman at war4Of Horses and Men director Erlingsson and fellow screenwriter Ólafur Egill Egilsson keep things balanced between absurdist comedy and a tense thriller with a crafty plot and heartfelt and believable stakes. Some of the quirkier touches – such as having the musicians play Davíð Þór Jónsson’s folk-influenced score on screen, frequently cued by the actors – are likely to raise an eyebrow early on, only to become integrated into the plot of the film and earn their place as the story progresses. This is especially true when three traditionally-garbed Ukrainian singers join the ensemble as a new constituent to Halla’s inner music. Likewise, a Latin American tourist (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) who keeps getting arrested as a suspect in Halla’s crimes begins as little more than a running joke only to evolve into a cunning plot device.

Given the paucity of films for such a strong middle-aged female lead, it’s good to see Geirharðsdóttir take such relish in her twofer as Halla and Ása. As the latter, she never resorts to lazy caricature but instead grounds her as a human being in the same way that as Halla, despite her political commitments, her sense of humour is never lost. Her exchanges with Jóhann Sigurðarson’s ‘alleged cousin’, farmer and occasional ally, and his dog called Woman, are particularly funny.

In her primary role as the action woman, Halla would give Liam Neeson a run for his money with her ingenious evasions of the escalating police hunt, but there’s also a visual grandeur to her mission as she faces off against drones and the power grid. Cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson shoots his Icelandic landscapes with such an eye for its barren beauty that it makes her motivation crystal clear. This is a beautiful world that is well worth saving.