There’s duality in every aspect of ‘Woman at War’

by KB Burke on March 14, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

There are two sides to Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) in the Academy Award-nominated foreign language film, Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð). She’s a community conductor … pleasant faced, middle-aged, and accommodating to her choir and their practicing for their upcoming summer concert. On the other hand, the scene we are introduced to Halla in the film’s opening is completely different.

She is also “The Woman of the Mountain,” an eco-warrior activist, who we see on a solo mission to disrupt the power supply to a nearby aluminum melting plant ruining the eco-system of her Icelandic countryside home. She’s fierce and determined as she makes her escape while the opening credits roll. Her two worlds are unsettled by the approval of a forgotten adoption process for a little girl from the Ukraine. What follows is a clever and creative comedy-thriller that combines moments of adventure with unique perspective on seeing things.

The duality continues in the choice of characters. Ása, Halla’s sister, is also excellently portrayed by Geirharðsdóttir. The mannerisms of the two sisters makes it apparent who is who in every scene. The apt use of split screen to have them both on screen simultaneously is sparingly used so it doesn’t become kitschy. She is assisted along the way by her “alleged cousin” Sveinbjörn, warmly played by Jóhann Sigurðarson.

Music is also a main character in this film. Actually, music is six of them. Reminiscent of Birdman, a simple trio made up of a sousaphone, drummer, and accordion/pianist literally follows Halla around, providing a jazzy yet militant score to the film and indirect voice to Halla’s thoughts. This makes sense because every heroine should have her own theme music. As the Ukrainian adoption is introduced, so is the audience to the soundtrack of a trio of Ukrainian choir singers. Halla’s interaction with the music adds comedy and dramatic tension. This unique use of dual diegetic sounds in normally non-diegetic places is an eclectic use of music and characters, providing a new layer to the film. If there was any character that needed more developing, it would be the one of Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), who always seems to be in the wrong place at the right time.

There are several elements of a spy film with very astute camera use, hiding and revealing things you don’t expect. In all, the cinematography is great. While showcasing landscaping shots of the Icelandic Highlands in ways that are not especially lush, but still beautiful. There’s a great combination of camera shots and styles, including drone shots that are not introduced until there’s a drone introduced in the storyline in pursuit of The Woman of the Mountain. Certain scenes follow this motif of duality, showing how Halla is one with nature in shots where she is lying down for one reason or another.

Amid all the great shots and storyline is an underlying story of protest of global environmental change. Halla’s role as a saboteur grows in infamy, pausing the negotiations between government and corporations, yet also increasing the level of attention aimed toward her. Through the lens of television news, the growing threats are spread and conveyed without hardly any additional narrative given (or needed). The message is delivered clearly without any brow beating and a heavy shake of humor.

Woman At War is witty and political without being preachy about the environmental stance, even to the end when all become one.

KB is a native New Yorker/Midwest transplant who’s into tech, sports, and the arts, especially film and music. He still aspires to be a DJ in his other life. You can frequently catch him watching Hitchcock classics, film noir, and anything Star Wars.


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