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(The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival ran September 6-16 in, you guessed it, Toronto, Canada. Hammer to Nail had boots on the ground in the form of lead critic Chris Reed and Matt Delman. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month to help keep us going?)

Woman at War, from Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson (Of Horses and Men), features a powerful central performance from actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (Metalhead) as twin sisters, one of whom is a committed environmentalist who will stop at nothing to keep her government from making a deal to develop Iceland’s untapped natural resources. The film opens with a bang (and a spark), as Geirharðsdóttir’s Halla takes down a section of capital city Reykjavík’s power grid singlehandedly, thanks to a bow, an arrow, a measure of heavy cable, and a strong will. It’s the fifth time she’s done it, and by now the authorities take the threat seriously. Soon, she is on the run, chased by helicopters. Not to fear, though, as the resourceful Halla is not about to be caught so easily.

Indeed, one of the great joys of this movie is watching Halla (sister Ása is not involved, though she will play an important role, later) as she outsmarts those who would not only capture her but belittle her efforts. Sure, she’s an eco-terrorist, but her motivation is noble, even if her methods are crude and violent (though no one is physically harmed). In a world where the overdevelopment of land has led to major climate disasters, perhaps such high stakes warrant drastic measures. Plus, Erlingsson directs the whole with a playful whimsy that keeps the tone light, even as things take a darker turn. That impishness mostly works, though there are certain gags – including the recurring musicians who play the film’s score, yet are also on camera, blurring the diegetic and non-diegetic space – that overstay their welcome.

Overall, this is a delightful affair, full of surprises. For such a small country, Iceland appears to have a vibrant film industry, as recent great films like Rams and The Swan amply demonstrate. Not only that, but it offers gorgeous landscapes as backdrops to the stories. Count Woman at War among those other movies’ cinematic compatriots, then, and place it in your queue when the opportunity arises. Its unique blend of activism and humor makes it well worth watching.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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