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Second after Of Horses and Men, Benedict Erlingsson’s full-length film tells the story of climate problems that the world is facing and short-sightedness of large enterprises focused on profit and so called “progress,” not noticing the damage that is spreading around them. All of this has been tailored to Iceland size, with recognizable Scandinavian humor, beautiful landscapes and the complexity of a small (though cooperating internationally) cinema. The winner of the LUX prize awarded by the European Parliament, Woman at War, is a cinema which – starting from the micro scale, refers to the macro scale.

You cannot fault the scenario which does not break its limits and consistently pursues the goal. Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson know what they are doing, mixing drama with elements of action and thriller. The main character, Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) will take an unequal fight with the industrial group producing aluminum. Her Viking blood will boil – she will make use of solutions being on the border of eco-terrorism, e.g. breaking electric traction, thus stopping production and scaring investors.

One can find a large dose of warmth in the movie. Although she works alone, Halla is not lonely. She plots with one of the government secretaries, and in the worst moments she can count on the support of her sister, as well as a hearty farmer – after all also being a man of Mother Earth. The driving force of activism in the film is stubborn, hard character, decisive action and strong faith in one’s beliefs. Although her actions will not meet with public acceptance, Halla does not withdraw and does not give up. She does not give up anything: neither work nor planned adoption (Ukraine’s contribution to the film, the adopted child is to be a girl who lost her parents during the conflict in Ukraine), or ecologically engaged activities. It is a model of a woman who adopts belligerent masculine attributes (in the general imagination the Viking is rather a man), presenting the independence and strength arising from her own sex.

Erlingsson also allows himself to play with the limits of film diegesis. Diegetic music will blend with that from outside diegesis – it is not only about the sounds themselves, but also about the presence of musicians in the film (jazz band and Ukrainian song ensemble), disturbing the classical fourth wall. They will also be observers of Halla’s actions, not having contact with any hero, although clearly marking their presence in the world (they use Twitter, in a few moments they have eye contact with Halla).

Woman At War is not a film that will leave the viewer in admiring apnea, although it is certainly a cinema that evokes enormous sympathy and has charmingly engaged potential[1]. It would be great if the MEPs who voted for Erlingsson’s work would act with equal sympathy to save our planet.


[1] Which already have been captured by American producers. A Hollywood version of the film starring Jodie Foster is planned.

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Mateusz Tarwacki

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Laura Przybylska
Laura Przybylska