In a world with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, Woman at War feels very topical. Hanna (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is an Icelandic eco-terrorist ready to take down the corporate world of polluting industry, whether this is through causing electrical faults or blowing up pylons.
The portrayal of Hanna in this film is interesting. We are given glimpses of her humanity, whether being a choir leader or through other interactions. Ultimately she portrays has a hardy soul and is difficult to connect with. One could argue that she doesn’t need a motivation, but you wonder why she goes to the extremes she does for this cause.
The reason you end up rooting for her is your enemy’s enemy is your friend. With the US and China both looking to build polluting industry and trying to track her down with increasingly draconian methods, you end up supporting her against this foreign attack on her homeland and her planet. Throughout the film, CCTV is installed all over the city and higher levels of technology are in place, in their quest to work out who this mysterious terrorist is as people’s freedom feels increasingly limited.
There is one humane motivation for Hanna. She always wanted to be a mother and there is a young Ukranian refugee up for adoption. However, she now has to choose between commiting her final plans or peacefully adopting her future daughter, fully aware of the risks this entails.
Throughout the film, it feels like she won’t be able to escape, significantly due to the choice of music and technique. You see these two bands of three constantly in the background wherever she is, playing the short repeated riff with subtly more urgency each time. No matter where she is, they follow her and this use of humour makes the film feel rather claustrophobic.
Unfortunately, the musical humour offsets the beautiful poetry that we could be seeing in motion here. Only at one point do we see some classical music synchronising with the grandeur of her actions. Quite often, the comedy fell flat for me. I didn’t hear to much chuckling in the cinema, but I am prepared to give it somewhat a benefit of the doubt as I’d had my third exam in five days that morning, so was tired and probably grumpy.
The setting of this film is beautiful. The green field of Iceland really do feel serene and expansive and could almost offer a relief. Meanwhile, the winding close-up shots of the city road also lead to a feeling of a lot less freedom.
The one thing this film was missing for me was the moment where your heart strings are tugged. Hanna does have a rough exterior, but with everything happening, you feel she could show another dimension. The biggest flaw with her character was that you were never given much. No moments to make you fully invest and no pay off either. There was no development or doubt within. But is this single-mindedness what is needed to save the world? My other issue was that the film felt predictable, whether through a feeling of inevitability or a twist ending, I could guess what was going to happen and it didn’t quite feel fully satisfying.
Woman at war offers a unique dark comedy insight into eco-terrorism. Its relevancy can’t be overstated and its odd, dark humour should appeal to some. However, some one-dimensional characters and mistimed humour took away from what could have been in the key moments. Grade: C