Two films about an Icelandic woman activist and a strong Vietnamese wife

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Two films about an Icelandic woman activist and a strong Vietnamese wife

Malcolm Lewis writes about Woman at War, directed and co-written by Benedikt Erlingsson and The Third Wife, directed and written by Ash Mayfair.


Woman at War

What a wonderful film! In a lovely, crazy, Icelandic way, it is serious and funny, full of action and human, political and real. It is a surprise and enjoyable. It’s the story of Halla, a friendly choir leader and a climate activist. She has a big picture of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King on her wall. She has a longbow in her spare room with her bicycle. She carries the longbow in a backpack to the fields and hills of southern Iceland. She fires arrows with a metal line with her longbow at electricity transmission cables to stop the power. It’s a risk, but it works. The electricity power cuts get media attention, and threaten Chinese investment.

When the government tries to do more to catch the criminals, Halla wants to do more, too. But she has problem. She hears that her application to adopt a child has succeeded. She’s going to be a mum. What can she do? She steals explosives from a shop store, and knocks down a pylon.

It’s a story of courage, of a wet landscape of glaciers, icy streams, and hot geysers. It’s about sheep, both living and dead, and bad politicians. It’s also about people and their trust. At important moments, a small group of musicians and singers appear and play and sing. The story, they tell Halla, isn’t fixed. She can take climate action, and we can take climate action.

100 minutes ★★★★★


The Third WifeItalic text

May sits, silent, 14 years old, looking at high cliffs she doesn’t know. They take her by boat to become the third wife of a Vietnamese landowner. At the wedding feast May sits alone in a red dress. Next day, she stands alone in the courtyard beside a beautiful vase. From the vase hangs a white sheet stained with her blood.

She’s careful and silent. But when a servant tells her that the food she’s making will make her strong, and it helped the first wife to have a son, she speaks: ‘I want to have a boy’. Like the servant, she has an important place in the situation and she wants to do well. She wants to do better than the second wife. She admires the second wife but she only had a girl. They punish wrong actions, they send away a pregnant servant, a teenage bride, who the first wife’s son did not want, hangs herself.

Ash Mayfair, the director, (her name is also Nguyen Phuong Anh) has used her great-grandmother’s life and stories to write the story in the film. And one of the strong parts of the film is the way she can feel for May. To May, her husband is only there to make her pregnant, and through May’s eyes we see how lonely and cruel a hierarchy can be. But it’s a quietly wonderful film of looks and smiles, of sharing and caring. It celebrates moments between the women, and children, which bring understanding, and, perhaps, help and support.

96 minutes ★★★★✩


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)