Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018)
See the video review here.
Icelandic filmmaker Benedikt Erlingsson’s new film, Woman at War, has a similar focus on sweeping landscapes as his previous feature, Of Horses and Men. Woman at War focuses on Halla, an unassuming middle-aged woman who, when not involved in her day job as the conductor of a choir, moonlights as an eco-activist whose ire is directed against the corporations whose man-made structures are spoiling the Icelandic landscape. Halla is introduced destroying electricity pylons in various inventive ways, and the film deftly sketches its key juxtaposition between Halla’s disruptive activities and her ‘mousey’ appearance. However, Halla’s perception of herself is challenged when she receives news that her attempt to adopt a Ukrainian baby has been successful.
Erlingsson’s approach to the material is often broadly comic: repeatedly he uses music on the soundtrack before panning or tilting the camera to reveal that this music is diegetic, the musicians playing on the sidelines of the action. It’s all slightly ‘Monty Python’ via the way of Mel Brooks (who has played similarly with music in his films), and arguably Erlingsson relies too heavily on such recurring visual gags. But it’s also very Brechtian, distancing the audience from the narrative and from identifying too heavily with Halla, who is sometimes placed in situations that are equivalent to those found in big budget Hollywood action films. With its unlikely and unassuming protagonist, Woman at War offers a healthy antidote to the Hollywood action picture, grounded in Erlingsson’s deadpan absurdism and some stunning photography.