A War (2015)
Original Danish language, English subtitles.
It is easy to forget that countries other than the US and Britain were involved in the war in Afghanistan. Quite a few films have been made about the ongoing war there, and we may have all seen at least one. But you could be forgiven for not knowing that Denmark was one small country that sent troops to fight the Taliban, as their involvement got little coverage outside of their own country. This film redresses that balance, even though it might not be well-known.
One thing about foreign-language films is that few if any of the actors will be familiar. This helps lend authenticity to the action, as we have no preconceptions about them, or memories of their previous roles. In this case, it gives the film an almost documentary feel from the start, and that start is also powerful, taking us straight into the action almost immediately. This is a war we feel familiar with. Something we have watched live on the TV news, and perhaps seen documentaries about too. The patrols in desolate countryside, lack of contact with an often unseen enemy, shocking injuries caused by isolated explosive devices, and soldiers posted to remote encampments surrounded by suspicious locals, where every person might well be an enemy soldier. All that is present here.
But this is a film of two halves, and is intertwined with the home life of a brave young officer, his wife and children finding it hard to cope back home in Denmark. In the modern world, they can make phone calls, so both are trying not to upset the other by telling the real truth about what is going on. When the company loses a man to an I.E.D., the officer decides he will break protocol by leading his men out on patrol. After a local farmer is threatened by the Taliban and asks for help, the troops are sent out to clear the insurgents from the village, resulting in them walking into a trap. Under heavy fire, and taking casualties, the officer calls for air support, and the village is bombed. This means the company can escape, and the wounded can be flown out by helicopter.
This incident changes the film into a courtroom drama, when the officer is arrested for ordering the deaths of civilians in the village, and sent home to face a civilian trial in Denmark. Not only are his actions and judgments questioned, the rules of engagement in such a war are highlighted, with the the authorities showing little regard for the safety of their troops in a war zone. The pressure on the officer to justify his actions, and the worries of his family that he faces prison, then take up the second half of the film, and we see the trial unfold.
I thought this was a gem of a film. The scenes in Afghanistan were convincing, especially the injuries shown, and although there is little action, what does happen is tense in the extreme. The everyday lives of the soldiers and the family back home are handled just right, with suitable cuts to both, and every actor, even in the smallest role, is always believable. I was completely involved throughout, and totally invested in the characters.
For a very European take on this sad and continuing war, I don’t think you will see better.