An Eco-Thriller And Comedy: 'Woman At War' The new Icelandic film Woman at War tells the story of Halla and her one-woman crusade against the local aluminum industry. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, who stars.

An Eco-Thriller And Comedy: 'Woman At War'

An Eco-Thriller And Comedy: 'Woman At War'

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The new Icelandic film Woman at War tells the story of Halla and her one-woman crusade against the local aluminum industry. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, who stars.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, vocalizing)


Halla, a woman with a double life, is at the center of a new movie from Iceland. To everyone around her, she's an affable, middle-aged choir director peddling around town on her bicycle.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Halla has a big secret. She's a fierce environmental activist. Bow and arrow in hand, she takes on the aluminum industry, one downed power line at a time.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The movie "Woman At War" is both an eco-thriller and a comedy. I spoke with the actress who plays Halla. And because I'm not so good at names, I did have some trouble with pronunciation. Halldora Geirharosdottir.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Geirharosdottir.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Geirharosdottir.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Geirharosdottir.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: It's good enough.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's good enough. Sorry.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Yeah, yeah (laughter).


GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: It's no problem.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: She joined us from our studios at NPR West. I began by asking her to describe what's happening in Iceland at the beginning of the movie that's driving her character's activism.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Halla has realized that money only understands money. So to really - to harm big industry that wants to buy electricity in Iceland, you have to harm the big corporations. And the way she does this, like, she takes out the electricity lines. And aluminium - if it doesn't get energy for certain amount of hours, the aluminium factories will freeze, and they will be destroyed. So it's like a terror attack she is doing. So she's trying to make Iceland into, like, unstable country for big industry to invest in electricity there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about Iceland and whether this fits into some of the debates that are happening there now.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: In Iceland, we have the biggest untouched highlands in Europe. So - and I think nature is as honorable as a child. So us, as adults, we have to protect nature just like we protect children because nature cannot defend itself. And, yeah. It is a big debate we have there because, of course, big industries and people that believe in the - making fast money, they don't agree. They say we have to use what we have and sell energy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Halla is an environmental activist, but she also wants to be a mother. And, in this film, she gets a letter telling her that her application for adopting a child from Ukraine has been accepted. And the film has this tension - right? - between these two identities. Can she both raise a child and save the world? Does she have to give up one dream for the other?

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Yes. And this is her conflict. And then she realizes in the film that the darkness is getting bigger. And she realizes, as she has already taken the decision to adopt the child, that she has to do her final stroke against the darkness before she saves the child.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about the soundtrack. The music is almost a character in the film. Musicians pop up in most of the scenes. There's a tuba player, a pianist, a trio of Ukrainian singers. And they even interact with the plot. Tell me a little bit about how that came to be.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: I really don't know how Benedikt allowed himself to do such a theatrical thing in the film.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The director?

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Yeah, the director. But when I read the script, I just loved the idea that the - her inner band because I really feel that every human has some inner band playing all the time, you know? There's a score happening inside yourself. I thought it was brilliant to have the score visible in the band and in the Ukrainian choir. And I - when I was on set, I always imagined they were part of me.



GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: So I could play with them or I would try to play against them. I would try to fight myself that was the band or I would go with the band, you know?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in foreign language).


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think that's part of the cleverness of the film that gives it this sort of fairy tale, almost lyrical idea about it. But it is also very serious. And it's about climate change. Why do you think it's been so hard to make films about an issue like climate change?

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Maybe because there's not so much humor in it. It's that serious. What I love the way the director does it is - and what you don't realize as an American audience is that all authority in the film is played by comedian actors in Iceland. So the president is a comedian. The prime minister is a comedian. The policemen, both men and women, are comedians. So he really makes the authorities into clowns. So this is like an extra layer for Icelandic audience. But I really think as an actor - and I've done lot of comedy. And my strength has mostly been, like, comedy acting. If you do good comedy, you really open up the audience. And then you can send in the true message because when people are laughing, they actually open more up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I just want to talk about the landscape. I've never been to Iceland, but it is so stunning. And you really get a sense of what it is you're fighting for.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Yes. But they really tried not to make it into a box of chocolates, that you really just would feel the energy of our country. And it is very strong energy. And we have a deep, deep connection to it. And I think for an Icelander to act in a film like this or for me to act in it, it's really like - it just comes naturally. I just can easily become one with the nature.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because, yeah, in the film, you're smelling the earth. You're lying on the ground. You're covered in the dirt. You're, you know, connected viscerally.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Yes. And this moment when she smells the earth, the herbs, this is really like - for all Icelanders that see this, this is like a meditational moment because when we do this and we smell this smell, this is like being in paradise.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Halldora Geirharosdottir...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Is in "Woman At War." Thank you very much.

GEIRHAROSDOTTIR: Thank you so much for listening and seeing.

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