Climate change is not a subject many would associate with whimsy, but with the Icelandic Woman at War, writer-director Benedikt Erlingsson has tried to apply a lightness of touch to a story about coming mass extinction.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharsdóttir) is a fifty-year-old eco-warrior waging a one-woman war against an aluminium plant near Reykjavik while dressed in her lovely Icelandic jumper. Her constant sabotaging of power lines are spooking international investors but have also drawn heat from the police. Just when victory or jail seem equally close at hand, Halla receives news that an application to adopt a child which she filed years ago has finally been approved.
The conflict that plays out is one where Halla’s quest to save the planet collides with her desire to help improve the life of one child. Woman at War is concerned with the idea of choosing your fight. Do you set the world to rights or make a small difference? If you’re thinking that none of this sounds that funny its because it’s… not, really. There is a recurring gag about the cops repeatedly arresting the wrong guy and the film leans far too much on funny music to inject levity into certain scenes. There is also a device where we hear the score and, afterwards, the band playing it are revealed in shot. Too much of the time this feels like putting a clown nose on a dramatic moment rather than making a moment that’s inherently comedic.
There are times, though, where Erlingsson manages to shift gears more seamlessly. Some extremely tense and impressive sabotage and chase scenes follow effortlessly on the heels of moments of light dramedy. The film’s last act gets both the best and worst results from this tonal juggling. One howler of a plot twist is followed by a genuinely poignant piece of imagery.
Just like Halla herself, Woman at War’s approach might have some limitations but it’s an admirable attempt all the same, and not one without merit.