Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 7, 2019

A Woman at War

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 10:21 pm

As the DVD’s I received from Hollywood studio publicists for our December NYFCO awards meeting gather dust on my bookshelf (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Sister Brothers”, and “First Man”), I am finally getting back to the kind of films I cherish. At the risk of sounding like those reviewers who fawn over the likes of “A Star is Born”, I will start off this review by stating that “A Woman at War” is a brilliant work with a keen understanding of the central crisis of our age, namely the looming extinction of life on earth, including homo sapiens. Like “First Reformed”, and just as powerfully, it is the story of an ecoterrorist willing to sacrifice everything, including her own life, to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the system. I refer to Edward Abbey’s great novel since the lead character of “A Woman at War” has much in common with his protagonists. They want to preserve the natural resources and beauty of the American Southwest while Halla is just as intent on preserving Iceland’s austerely beautiful biosphere while striking a blow against Rio Tinto, a corporation that is widely criticized for its mining operations that degrade nature and wage laborers alike.

Despite Iceland’s tiny population (338,349), it has a film industry that puts Hollywood to shame. Given the preoccupations of “A Woman at War”, it is clear that director Benedikt Erlingsson is attuned to the political sensibility of the majority of its population that has a much better grasp of world affairs than Americans, liberal or conservative. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the USA would be much better off if we were dissolved and the Icelanders were elected to take our place.

A major difference between “First Reformed” and “A Woman at War” is the kind of action its protagonists choose. As Father Toller, Ethan Hawke dons a suicide belt with the intention of blowing himself up and everybody else who is attending a ceremony in honor of his landmark church’s anniversary. He has lost a reason for living and is anxious to take out with him the owner of a factory that has been despoiling the local soil, air and water.

In the brilliant opening scene of “A Woman at War”, we see the 49-year old protagonist, a woman named Halla, putting a powerline out of commission. It feeds an aluminum factory that is a joint venture of Iceland’s government, the Chinese, and Rio Tinto. Erlingsson has the guts to call out Rio Tinto, even though it is not a player in Iceland. By contrast, Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” features a totally fictional corporation.

Halla uses a powerful hunting bow to launch a steel cable up and over the power lines that will land on the other side of the pylon. After donning thick rubber gloves, she brings the steel cable into contact with the power lines in order to create a short circuit that cuts off power to the aluminum factory. At the risk of sounding like the typical hype-purveying reviewer, this is about as exciting a five minutes I have spent watching a movie in the past 5 years or so.

Halla is getting set to escalate her attacks on the plant when she receives word that a four-year old girl living in a Donetsk orphanage is available for an adoption that she applied for years ago. Before going off to Ukraine to pick her up, Halla is determined to go ahead with the mother of all monkey-wrench operations, even if threatens her becoming a new mother. As a fallback, she will rely on her twin sister, a yoga instructor who has also applied to become an adoptive mother and who has no idea of her sister’s clandestine activism.

It takes a great deal of nerve and artistic acumen to successfully portray such a woman as a heroine. Erlingsson has succeeded beyond all expectations. Your worry (at least mine and my readers, I would think) is that she fails to disable the factory permanently and is prevented from retrieving the girl from the orphanage. The suspense is considerable and the film’s conclusion will leave you melting into your seat.

Let me conclude with the director’s statement in the press notes. Given his political insights and his brilliance as a filmmaker, it is obvious that “A Woman at War” that opens in New York City on March 1 at the IFC Center and Landmark at 57 West theaters is one that you cannot afford to miss:

To me it seems evident that Nature’s rights should be strongly protected in all constitutions and defended by local and international laws. We need to collectively realize that untouched nature has an intrinsic right and necessity to exist, regardless of our human needs or our economic system.

I can for example imagine a more rational system in which ‘we humans’, if we wanted to spoil or use unblemished Nature for our own needs, we would need to go through a process, maybe something like a trial, in order to be allowed to do that.

These issues are really about the common good and the long-term interests of our existence as a whole. Just like the ability to take a person’s freedom away and keep them inside a prison for life. So I think now is the right time to look at this kind of approach.

Add to this the strange paradox in some of our societies, the “State”, which in democratic countries is an instrument created by the people for the people, can be so easily manipulated by special interests and against what’s obviously the common welfare. When we look at the big, existential environmental challenge we face, and what has been happening, this becomes crystal clear.

1 Comment »

  1. First paragraph, last sentence: “degrade” could be replaced by a more powerful word – exploit.

    Comment by uh...clem — February 8, 2019 @ 1:23 am


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