A virtuous man alone against the system, there has been a lot on the silver screen, particularly when it comes to American movies where the figure of the individual hero is set, in accordance with the American ethos, as the paramount role model. From early cinema till today, examples abound, among the most seminal "The Life of Emile Zola", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "The Setup", "Harvey Milk" come to mind, but they are but a few samples of a practically endless list. By contrast, their female equivalents can be counted on the fingers of one hand: women fighting alone like Sally Field ("Norma Rae") or Julia Roberts ("Erin Brokovich") are the exceptions that prove the rule. But, well, The Times Are-A-Changin', as Bob Dylan once sang and are slowly acquiring (not everywhere alas!) the role they deserve. A point illustrated by this excellent Icelandic film, aptly titled 'Woman at War', offering the striking portrait of a modern-times female warrior, the wonderful Halla, played by the equally awesome actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir ("Regina!", "Of Horses and Men"). Inventively directed by Benedikt Erlingsson (the author of the already mentioned "Of Horses and Men"), it may well become a cult classic.
To tell you the truth, before entering the hall, I thought I knew in advance how the film would develop : a corrupt system (in this case an aluminium company that threatens the environment of Iceland and its people), would make the protagonist (a carbon copy of the white hero) an activist who would start by winning her first fights before having to face severe counter-attacks only to triumph in the end, all the wrongs righted. The only thing that really attracted me was that the story was set among the unusual landscapes of Iceland. How big (and pleasant) my surprise was! For, as of the very first shot, it was quite evident that "Woman at War" was not going to tread the beaten track. What other movie indeed opens on a fifty-year old lady drawing a bow and shooting an arrow towards high voltage power lines? And not only that but also managing to cause a short-circuit cutting off supply in the aluminium plant area? There mustn't be many. Such an attack against toxic modernism carried out by a woman using archaic weapons sets the tone for this fanciful and utterly unpredictable film.
For, in the wake of this inspired overture, imagination, suspense, laughter, happily follow suit. The delighted viewer is indeed treated to a whole menu of various pleasures, such as breathless sequences (Halla being hunted by cars, dogs, drones, helicopters), constant surprises and twists (impossible while watching a scene to guess what will come after), unexpected changes of tone (the underground warrior being also the conductor of an amateur choir), unusual ideas (Halla saved from icy waters by being plunged into a... hot water source), detachment from the action (the ever-present brass band) and irrepressible comedy (the recurring mishaps of a poor foreigner). At the same time and for the same ticket price, you get a very serious social and political commentary (among the topics broached, corruption, commitment, environment, the future of mankind). And although this last aspect is pessimistic, even bordering on bitterness and despair, it is always alleviated by the writer-director's sense of humor and narrative skills.
A very positive assesment, to which can be added a fine homegenous cast in which Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, remarkable as she is, never tries to be number one.
All in all, a perfect film, managing to combine art, entertainment and reflection, which is not so common. Recommended of course.