Review of Woman at War

I tend to review a lot of books on this blog. I am a reader. I am also a watcher and I tend to second screen (a lot). In fact even as I write this there is video playing on the second screen. All this being said I don’t tend to review movies or TV shows and on searching the last one I did review was before I left Canada for Ireland (The Architect, the Socialist and the Turning Tower – a model of which I printed only yesterday – eerie foreshadowing). But I feel compelled to share my thoughts and pointed to an amazing film I happen to have had the serendipitous pleasure of experiencing earlier today.

Woman at War, directed by Benedikt Arlington and starring Halladóra Geirhardsdóttir is a 2018 award winning Icelandic film. It came to me by way of mubi.com which I only discovered during the lockdown. I have nested and set up my office in the dining room, returning to my old (but trusted 2013 MacBook set up with a large 30″ display and a stand to support the smaller laptop along with all the recording equipment for remote delivery of lectures. I typically work on the large screen and have video going on the smaller screen. This keeps me focussed. Generally I don’t get distracted, but today I did.

Mubi offers a wonderfully curated set of exceptional, unique and rarer films – featuring one a day. I have truly appreciated many of the suggestions. I notices Woman at War and merely began it as I wanted to hear the Icelandic being spoken, didn’t want a subtitled movie that would distract a wasn’t immediately drawn to the storyline as described. Ooops.

Woman at War is one of the most evocative and visceral films I have ever seen. It’s not the action, although the use of magical bands or choirs that can only been seen (heard) by the heroine create an acoustic surround that is both special and perfect. It’s not even necessarily the storyline, although there are a lot of subtle things going on here. The acting is stunningly superb. Halladóra Geirhardsdóttir is mesmerising, gritty, determined, shocking and thought-provoking. Her determination (and I am not going to blow a little bit of the surprise by mentioning duality here). She is an absolutely versatile actor and must have been an instinctual casting choice. Supporting actors even in minor roles are to a type, but each shines in their own light. Jóhann Sigurdarson is all of our supposed cousins. Juan Camillo Roman Estrada in a recurring role is instrumental.

Halla is a an eco warrior with a passion – for life, for community, for the future, for society. She is a doer that acts with determination. Her sister Asa is contempletive, inward-focussed, yogic and slow acting. Iceland is a country and an economy on the rebound coming to grips with an environmental heritage but challenged by resource-based global economic influence. Halla acts. One sense that she and her sister have always sought to control their own destinies and have found these along the paths of single hood but at some point craved a tangible connection to the future and both applied to adopt a child if the possibility happened to arise. After many forgotten years it does and the timing may or may not be appropriate. It gives ease for thought and also stimulus for action. I really don’t want to give any of the plot away. I think it is very important out be teased out as the director intends.

The combination of atmospheric setting, brilliant (echoes of Wes Anderson) use of music in the form of recurring thematically included of trios (the number three remains intriguing) makes for pure engagement. I tuned in for a bit of spoken Icelandic and was drawn in within a few minutes. There is so much thought provocation going on here – delivered in a brilliantly creative way that doesn’t knock you n the head but instead weaves you into the deeper story. I am glad to have had the opportunity (after many failed attempts) to have visited Iceland two years ago for my birthday. Much of this comes as slightly reminiscent of experience which is an added bonus – but it is the sense, the feeling, the characters, the unique environment that really resonates.

This struck me so strong that I have written the first review of a move on this blog in over a decade. What a treasure, treat, pleasure to have found this today. If you happen to be open to an experience – or crave something that is definitely unique and off the beaten track I would advise/invite you to check out Woman at War. I would love to see some more form this director and actor. Stunning!

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