When should you put your phone in the freezer? When you’re an environmentally friendly terrorist, sabotaging Iceland’s electricity and triggering worldwide alarm. In other words, if you’re a woman at war.
The film opens with a funky, upbeat tempo and a middle-aged woman climbing a mountain. She scuttles through the bumpy hills until she finds her target. She pulls out her bow and shoots a metal wire over the electrical land lines. Sparks screech, and suddenly a factory in Iceland loses its power.
Hallá is taking down multinational corporations’ power one power line at a time. Her extremist tactics cause panic and uncertainty in Iceland. They dissuade international investors from putting money into Icelandic industries and cause a quick economic downturn. Her goal—environmental justice—is put at the cost of capitalistic triumph.
She calls herself the mountain girl. As she runs from drones and helicopters, her beige sweater blends into the bushy mountains. The quality of the shot is so crisp, you can feel the mountain air on your skin.
The soundtrack, or three musicians and three Ukrainian singers, take an unconventional role in the film. They follow Hallá throughout her journey, through the mountains and the streets of her neighborhood, on rooftops and in tiny corridors. They follow her all the way through the end, where they tread waist-deep through a flooded road in Ukraine.
The three male musicians immediately bring some comic relief to the otherwise dramatic and thrilling film, as they randomly appear in the mountainside— a full drum set, trumpet, and piano amid lush hills and an immaculate blue sky. They also interact with Hallá, pausing as she looks back at them and in one scene turning on her television. In the middle of the film they even retweet a twitter thread, which helps advance the plot.
Woman at War puts the climate change crisis at the center of the film. It subtly points fingers at governments and massive corporations for recklessly and selfishly destroying the earth. Hallá warns that “We are the last generation that can stop the war against this earth.”
This is one of the lines in the mountain girl’s confessional letter to Iceland and the world. As hundreds of these white letters flutter down upon the city, Hallá smiles. Maybe she will save the earth in time for the future generations.
In the background, Hallá’s television flashes with images of the now, the already happening— communities ravaged and flooded, humans fighting for their survival. The breathtaking shots of nature and Iceland’s landscapes are put in contrast to the doomed future. Iceland’s blue glaciers are already melting and Ukraine’s streets are already flooding.
In a swimming pool locker room, Hallá and her twin sister Asá represent two sides of the climate change quarrel. Hallá argues the disruptive incidents are for a good cause. She observes no one has been hurt. Asá, ignorant of her sister’s direct involvement, agrees with the industrialist government and conforming, mindless media. She views these incidents as “extremist violence” that needs to end. Like the rest of Iceland and the world, Asá overlooks the issue at hand and misses the mountain girl’s pursuit for environmental salvation.
A multifaceted character, Hallá is nimble, scrappy and daring. She’s independent, but relies on the help of her twin sister and her alleged cousin. Hallá is as much loving and full of joy as she is serious and determined.
Overcoming Hallá’s mission to incite a revolution and help save the earth, is her dream to be a mother. Four-year-old Nika lost her parents and grandmother in the war in Ukraine. Shots of silence leave us emotionally bare alongside Hallá and her pensive thoughts of motherhood and adoption. Almost immediately, Hallá falls in love with this little hero, and she soon carries a photo of Nika wherever she goes.
Woman at War is thrilling narrative entwined with raw, human characters and quick comedic delight. It speaks to ponderous polemics and the approaching date of earth’s destruction with a simple light-heartedness. The film ends with its hero Hallá, a brave, humble pioneer, literally carrying the future generation through the flood.