Review: Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir in Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

When I saw the trailer for Iceland’s Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) I thought it looked good. When I saw the actual film I was surprised and delighted by it. It’s a little bit of magic with a powerful message. Beware, there are a couple of spoilers ahead.

Halla and her twin sister Ása (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) are nearing 50. Both are childless. Halla teaches choir. Ása teaches yoga. It’s been 4 years since they both applied to be adoptive mothers.

Halla hasn’t been wasting her time in those 4 years. She’s been waging a secret, one woman war on the corporate forces destroying the environment of her beloved Iceland. Really, the corporate forces destroying the environment of the entire planet. The images on her wall at home are Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. She means to go big.

We see Halla running miles across the Icelandic countryside to bring down an electrical grid with nothing more than a bow and arrow. She’s chased by helicopters and drones but hides from them.

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir in Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

Halla is alone, except her background music travels with her. They aren’t there, but they are there. Most of the time it’s a drummer, a tuba player, and a keyboard player. Sometimes it’s a Ukrainian singing group. Sometimes it’s both. They are characters in the story but they don’t exist in the story.

I don’t know how to label this traveling musical score. Magical realism? Fantasy? Whimsy? It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s absolutely unique.

Halla brings down the electric wires and stops production at the aluminum smelter. She runs miles across the tundra fleeing the helicopters. Halla sees the farm of Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson). After a brief conversation, they decide they are second cousins. He loans her a car to get back into town.

Her friend Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) knows what she’s doing. He urges her to stop. She’s ready for her big move. She’s going to blow up one of the towers holding the transmission lines. She’s going to paper the town with leaflets explaining why.

She gets word that a 4 year old girl named Nika (Margaryta Hilska) is waiting to be adopted in Ukraine. Does she continue her environmental activism? Does she dig out the children’s things she’d stored away and go get Nika?

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir and Margaryta Hilska in Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

She does go after the little girl. But first she goes after the transmission lines. She gets arrested, too. I’ll leave the secret of how she gets out of jail to go to the Ukraine for you to learn.

There are so many light and funny touches in this movie about a serious topic. A subplot involves the Spanish visitor Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) who gets arrested every time Halla does something. He’s a foreigner, he must have done it. He curses the cops in Spanish and calls them puta, but speaks English to Halla when they finally cross paths.

The most powerful scene in Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) is the last one. Halla has Nika in hand. They’re going home. The bus they are on drives through exceptionally high flooding. Finally the bus stalls and they must get out and walk. Waist deep in a climate disaster, Halla, Nika, the ever present band and the Ukranian singing group all wade toward higher ground.

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir was wonderful as both Halla. Halla is indeed a warrior woman. Tireless, unrelenting, determined. And right. In the right. So few people are on the right side of history, the right side of the climate crisis. Women like Halla are needed everywhere.

Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) is available on Hulu, Prime Video, YouTube and more. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. I completely recommend it.

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Woman at War poster

Not the trailer, but a clip

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