‘Woman at War’ Review: An Ecological Thriller With a Delightful Tonal Twist

Woman At War is an Icelandic environmental comedic thriller written and directed by Benedikt Erlingsson. Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), who is an ecological freedom fighter, is trying to bring down the Icelandic government and their dependency on fossil fuels. However, Halla’s current trajectory is thrown into the air as her four-year-old application to adopt a child is accepted amid this ongoing fight. Suddenly, the world comes crashing down on Hella who faces her biggest challenge of all; to decide between the future of the planet or her own.

One of the numerous great strengths of Woman at War is the depiction of its tone, as it is nothing short of exceptional with how it balances both the truly daunting notion of existential dread and the beautiful little moments of comedic nature the film entails. Notably, its the excellent writing from Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson, as well as the outstanding central performance from Geirharðsdóttir. The former, as mentioned above, treads a thin line between two mutually exclusive genres of thriller and comedy. The two interlink in perfect harmony, while inadvertently highlighting the absurdity of the situation that unfolds as well as the profoundly severe implications of Halla’s extraordinary actions. The film — ironically enough — is rather light on dialogue, but when the film exercises monologue it does so in not only a slick and punchy fashion but also with a slight poignant weight. A subtle reminder for the audience that while the story panders on the absurd, it’s never too far away to remind you of the severe consequence.

How the film integrates its soundtrack is bizarrely compelling. I don’t want to go into specific detail in how it conveys as such, as I imagine going into this blind will make the experience all the more immersive and indicative of this out of body experience the film wants to evoke. However, without giving away anything, how the film does include said score in moments of tension and the resulting atmosphere is arguably one of the most magnificent touches in cinema I’ve seen in some time.

The cinematography from Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson is another outstanding element to Woman At War. To say it’s beautiful would be an understatement to the film. How the images are framed and composed throughout is magical. For example, the opening frames alone are wonderfully orchestrated and immerse you into this beautiful landscape and story in a remarkable fashion. The relationship between the earth and camera is conveyed in such a level of harmony that the viewer can imagine smelling every life growing from the ground and — feel every stroke of wind. The feeling while watching this is sensational.

Last but not least, Geirharðsdóttir performance cements the deep tone of Woman At War as the film rests solely on her shoulders to carry. Without such a magnificent embodiment of internal destruction and indecision, the film unequivocally would not work without her intoxicating talent. Geirharðsdóttir has this warmth that surrounds and pulls the audience in with ease. There is a not so subtle turn to her performance that I don’t want to spoil here, and while it may be a little too much for specific audiences, Geirharðsdóttir’s talent just about saves the decision, especially in the final act.

★★★★★

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