Just been watching…(85)

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.

Just been watching…(39)

Kajaki: The True Story (2014)

***No plot spoilers***

I had to interrupt my A-Z Challenge for this outstanding film. Also known as ‘Kilo Two Bravo’, this recent British film looks at the real life events experienced by a patrol of British paratroops, in Afghanistan in 2006. With a cast of unknown actors in the main, the authenticity of this film can be felt right from the opening scenes. I have seen a lot of war films in my long life, and this is undoubtedly one of the best.

Manning an outpost overlooking the Kajaki Dam, a company of the 3rd Batallion, The Parachute Regiment, are living a fairly dull existence. Routine observation, collecting supplies, and swimming in the dam take up a lot of their time. Then one night, they notice Taliban activity in the area below, and resolve to investigate, the next morning. A patrol sets off, on what is to be a routine mission, on the other side of the valley. After descending a goat track, they arrive at the cover of a dusty wadi, and proceed to walk through it. One of the team steps on a mine, and is seriously injured.

The patrol call for help, and it soon arrives. More troops and a medic show up, and they call for helicopter evacuation too. But there are mines everywhere, (presumably left behind by the Russians) and very soon, other members of the group are injured. When the promised helicopter eventually arrives, it does more harm than good, as the down-draught disturbs even more mines, and further explosions follow. By this time, I was completely gripped, and literally on the edge of my seat. (Sofa) Despite the lateness of the hour, I just knew that I would continue to watch.

I cannot praise this exceptional film highly enough. There is no fire-fight, no contact with the enemy, and all the action surrounds the desperate situation of the small group of soldiers trapped in that minefield. This is a film about courage, endurance, real bravery, and indomitable human spirit, in the face of horrifying events. The cast is superb, and the prosthetics used to simulate the injuries have never been bettered. I worked as an EMT for 22 years, and I was overwhelmed by the accuracy of the terrible injuries depicted in this film.

I guarantee that you will be also be gripped, and consumed by emotion, when watching this devastating film, even if you would not normally watch a ‘war film’. It will show you something of the indomitable human spirit that you would never have witnessed, unless you have been in a similar situation. During the closing credits, they feature the actual soldiers involved, and give an account of their fate, and what happened next. I was profoundly moved, and I cannot ever forget the impact that this film has had on me. I urge you to watch it, to realise just what happened, and to look behind the ‘casualty lists’.

Foreign Wars

Just a short post, about a subject so huge, I could write about it until Doomsday. It is prompted by our recent decision (as a Country) to assist the French intervention in the civil war in Mali. I am old enough to remember when the USA sent ‘advisors’, and ‘trainers’ to South Vietnam, to help their struggling army against the Communist North. We all know how that turned out, I think.

First, we went into Iraq, for reasons so spurious, they later prompted an Inquiry, and even some arrests for perjury. Next, it was Afghanistan, once we found out that they were the people we really needed to have a crack at. After that, despite a huge commitment remaining in that Country, we went to help Libyan rebels. It wasn’t about the oil though, honest. Since then, we have been ‘assisting’ the Syrian rebels, against the Assad government, and now we have our eyes on Mali. I looked it up. No oil, but the third largest gold producer in Africa. That might be a clue.

We have been told that we need to cut back our Armed Forces by tens of thousands over the next few years. The total strength of all of them is now at one of its lowest numbers in modern history. We are barely able to defend these islands from attack, in the event of a conventional war. The economy faces a triple-dip recession. All of this, we are told, is true. If so, what the hell are we doing getting involved in more Foreign Wars? What started out as 40 trainers, is multiplying rapidly, as fast as dividing cells in a tumour.

When will we, as a Country, realise that we are only a bit-player on the World stage these days. The Empire is long gone, and nobody is scared of the British anymore.