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Danish film is an authentic portrait of regimental life

By Kevin Spurgaitis

Directed by Janus Metz
(Fridthjof Film)

Gripping war films come and go. But few probe the psychology of soldiers coping with putting their own lives — and those of civilians — on the line.

Titled after the Danish army’s base in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, Armadillo is an authentic portrait of regimental life. Documentarian Janus Metz shadows a group of Danish soldiers providing security to the surrounding area while staving off a Taliban insurgency. Metz recounts matters small and large, from the banalities of life on base to the half-baked cruelties of troops outside the military perimeter. He shows them playing video games and gawking at online pornography; participating in a chaotic firefight; and inadequately swaying the hearts and minds of Afghan villagers.

In one scene, a father and son point out the futility of fighting a war in their country. “The Danes and their allies don’t get killed, nor do the Taliban,” they say. “Instead, it’s the villagers who get bombed in their own homes and die.”

Armadillo presents a lesser-known story about the Afghan war plainly yet evocatively. Metz’s technique is conventional: talking heads interspersed with striking footage. But rather than including flashes of extreme violence, he opts for a fuse that’s slow burning, not to mention morally ambiguous. This sustained, deliberate pacing gives the film a kind of melancholic quality.

Politically agnostic as it is, Armadillo neither condemns nor celebrates the Danish company’s six-month tour of duty. Instead, it allows audiences to witness how war gradually transforms these modern-day warriors, as well as their platoon.

In the end, we’re compelled to relate to soldiers struggling to maintain their humanity amid so much bloodshed and to better understand the emptiness that comes of their Afghan war experience.

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