WOMAN AT WAR (Kona fer í stríð) (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th Street, at, Twelfth Ave., 646-233-1615
Opens Friday, March 1
Writer-director Benedikt Erlingsson has followed up his dazzling 2015 debut, Of Horses and Men, with the brilliant Woman at War, opening today at IFC and the Landmark at 57 West. Icelandic stage, TV, and film star Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is sensational as choir director and eco-warrior Halla, a modern-day Artemis attempting to single-handedly bring down the country’s power grid in response to financial and environmental abuse. She roams the open landscape with her bow and arrow as she’s hunted by police tracking her in dark, ominous helicopters and drones, finding refuge with a local farmer Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) and his dog, Woman. Halla gets help from Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson), a detective and member of her choir; they are so cautious that when they speak about their mission, they put their cellphones in a freezer so no one can monitor them. Geirharðsdóttir also plays Halla’s twin sister, Ása, a yoga and meditation teacher preparing to go on a two-year retreat. No one suspects that Halla is the mysterious “Woman of the Mountain” behind the attacks; instead, the police keep harassing Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), a young brown man who sticks out like a sore thumb in Iceland, riding around on his overladen bicycle, claiming to be a tourist and calling everyone “puta.” When things start getting extremely dangerous, Baldvin backs off while Halla, who is also seeking to adopt a four-year-old Ukrainian girl, refuses to stop trying to save Mother Earth, one power line at a time.
Woman at War is a spectacular triumph, a gripping black comedy and action-adventure thriller with a deep heart. Cinematographer Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson’s camera adores Geirharðsdóttir’s face, particularly her determined eyes, and he and Erlingsson up the ante by magically giving us two of them; when Halla and Ása are together, it seems impossible that they’re not played by two different actresses. Superhero Halla also gets her own private soundtrack; as she ventures across the countryside and into various rooms and buildings, she is often accompanied by a trio of Icelandic musicians: composer, pianist, and accordionist Davíð Þór Jónsson, drummer Magnús Trygvason Eliasen, and sousaphone player Ómar Guðjónsson, occasionally joined by a Ukrainian choir, Iryna Danyleiko, Galyna Goncharenko, and Susanna Karpenko, in traditional dress. Gloriously, they are all aware of one another’s existence, adding to the fantastical and hysterically funny nature of the film, which was partly inspired by real-life seventeenth-century Icelandic outlaw couple Halla and Eyvindur. Of course, Erlingsson is also making some pretty important points about our contemporary existence, from climate change and corporate corruption to the refugee crisis and the police state, wrapped up in a gorgeously absurdist bow. Among the glut of films opening March 1, Woman at War is the one to see.