Part of the joy of attending international film festivals is discovering foreign language gems like Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s quirky drama “Woman at War.”
At the center of this odd tale of someone “who persisted” is Halla, a 50-something choir director in Iceland who seems upbeat and nonthreatening as she prepares adults for recitals and concerts. But still waters run deep with Halla, who is played perfectly by Halldora Geirhasdottir.
Halla is an environmental activist who is determined to wage war on Iceland’s aluminum industry, which she fears will ruin the Highlands, which cover most of Iceland’s interior.
Halla is decidedly low-tech in her war, stalking the power lines near the aluminum plant with a bow and arrow, causing shortages and such that disrupt the flow of electricity. But she starts stepping up her game as she gets more and more publicity as “The Woman of the Mountains,” an ecoterrorist.
That’s stretching the meaning of the word terrorist, because Halla is not directly attacking any person, but Iceland’s government is nevertheless alarmed that their nation will be regarded as hostile to industry.
Halla’s character is further softened by a long-delayed application to adopt a child in Ukraine. Just before one of her biggest attacks, she is notified that her application has been approved and that a young girl is waiting for her.
Despite such dramatics, “Woman at War” is surprisingly amusing and light-hearted. We get the mood quickly, because as Halla stalks across the pristine Highlands, a three-piece band follows her every move and provides the film’s soundtrack. She occasionally looks at it, as if wondering how a piano ended up on the Highlands, but otherwise doesn’t pay the band much attention.
In an interview provided to the media at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie screened Friday, Erlingsson addresses the use of this band, saying: “The music was there from the original first vision that led me to the movie. … I saw a woman running down an empty street. … Once I got a closer look at her, I could also see there was a three-piece band playing right behind her. Playing just for her and not at all for me. I listened closer until I could hear what the band was playing, and it was the soundtrack to the woman’s life.”
With the plot twist of the Ukrainian adoption, Erlingsson shakes up the soundtrack by introducing three Ukrainian women, in traditional garb, who become a choir for Halla on her quest for a child.
“Woman at War” is scheduled for a theatrical release early next year, with Magnolia Pictures handling distribution.