Poetry for desperate times

‘Woman at War’ provokes, inspires

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir at war in paradise

On the recommendation of a friend, I saw a magnificent film this week: Woman at War. It is the story of a mild-mannered, environmentally aware, middle-aged Icelandic woman, the conductor of an a cappella choir, who regards the industrialisation of her island—specifically the building and powering of aluminium smelters—as an act of sabotage against the natural world. So she indulges in a little sabotage of her own, and brings down the wrath of the security state on her head.

The brilliance of the movie rests in large part on the compelling lead actress, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, who has given a couple of insightful interviews concerning her role and the issues the movie is addressing—environmental activism being front and centre.

“We all have an activist inside us,” she says, except most of the time it isn’t active. “The question is: How do you find a way for your activist to get active? One of the reasons this character is inspiring is she plans it and does it—everything we have in our minds.”

Raising awareness of contentious environmental issues by dramatising them in a movie is a difficult artistic challenge, Geirharðsdóttir admits. In fact, within Iceland she thinks the film may have failed to achieve the kind of national dialogue the director, Benedikt Erlingsson, was hoping for.

“The film aims to help the awareness of how important untouched nature is and how important it is not to let big industry rule our decisions. Iceland is really split between right and left, green and not so green, those who take a destructive view of the environment and those with a more philosophical view. It is a big debate we have there because, of course, big industries and people that believe in making fast money, they don’t agree. They say we have to use what we have and sell energy. [We hoped] this film would be good to start a dialogue, but many people don’t want to see the film in Iceland because it’s too confrontational.

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