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Posted: Tue Apr 5 2011This embedded documentary takes us from a suburban Copenhagen home to the dusty heart of Helmand and back to Copenhagen airport as a batallion of Danish soldiers take temporary root in Armadillo, the appropriately otherworldly name of an unexceptional military outpost in southern Afghanistan. They patrol, they keep watch, they engage, they watch porn, they get injured and they try to stay sane.
Whether from the news, dramas or documentaries, we’ve heard a lot about the British army experience in Afghanistan. But what about the Danes? They have a minor military presence in the country and take a more relaxed approach to soldiering than us Brits, allowing their troops to grow beards and wear Billabong caps while being addressed by superiors. But the laidback attitude doesn’t extend to combat, and we’re right there with them as a small group of these mild-mannered bruisers take out an even smaller group of Taliban with guns and grenades, and drag their limp, lifeless bodies from a watery ditch.
Director Janus Metz takes a war reporter’s approach to gathering information – his crew is right there amid the gunfire and smoke – yet in other ways he tries to disguise that he’s making a documentary at all. There are no voiceovers and no talking-head set-ups. Metz, whose first feature-length documentary this is, also edits sound and picture to give his film the feel of a war drama. He cuts the action to a driving, directional score, and his multiple angles make it feel like he has a multitude of crew members in the field. Not that we see them: he’s a filmmaker who doesn’t like his presence to be felt by the viewer.
Luckily, any souping up of sound and image (it looks like the attractive digital photography has been given a thorough going over in post-production) doesn’t detract from the subject in hand. What Metz gives us is an unusually intimate portrait of the cycle of arrival, survival and departure experienced by soldiers on a six-month tour of duty. We witness boredom. We witness the adrenalin rush of combat. And, at one point, we witness a frank discussion about whether the soldiers have stepped over an ethical line or not. It’s hard to imagine the British army agreeing to such a close-up portrait. There’s also a welcome honesty to the troops’ interactions with locals (‘I bet you take it up the ass,’ shouts one child), and one elderly man’s line, ‘The country is exhausted’, lingers long in the ear.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Fri Apr 8, 2011