War doc 'Armadillo' deeply moving

Armadillo

Armadillo

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:16 PM ET

Armadillo is a documentary about a platoon of Danish soldiers fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. The film, which has some things in common with the doc Restrepo, follows these young men for about six months as they adjust to life in an outpost in Helmand province.

Armadillo begins at home in Denmark. There are worried moms and brave dads and lots of goodbyes at the airport; "Be aware of your surroundings," warns one distraught mother, unaware that her son will soon be in surroundings only 800 metres from the Taliban.

There are 170 Danish and British soldiers at Armadillo. The film introduces a handful of soldiers -- Mini, Daniel, Kim -- and establishes their everyday routines. There's talk about picking up body parts. The men watch porn and play violent video games on their own time. Sometimes they phone home. A lot of their work is boring. "I'd like to see some action, now," says Mini, wistfully.

The men speak to civilians, try to befriend the locals, hope to figure out which civilians might actually be members of the Taliban and continue to long for battle. One minute they are discussing compensation for the loss of a cow with a villager, and the next they are suddenly fired upon.

The first time the soldiers exchange shots with the enemy, the camera swings around wildly, hits the ground, comes back up. It's a sickening few seconds of reality -- you're in the thick of the action, with the camera man and the soldiers -- and there's plenty more to come.

But the men in Armadillo continue to talk about their boredom. They justify various things about the war, such as the death of a child; one of their own is wounded and goes to hospital. Other men die. And on it goes.

Now there are only two months left before the men can go home. A particular situation accelerates into a battle that sees the men triumphantly killing a handful of Taliban hiding nearby in a ditch. They are pumped by what has happened. They refer to the event as "f---g awesome," and are thrilled to have finally been at war. Their exhilaration is bizarre to watch.

Then it goes weird for them. To outsiders, the behaviour of the men seems barbaric. At home in Denmark, the media ask tough questions. The gap between what the fighting men think and what those safe at home believe will never be bridged.

Armadillo ends with the men finishing their six-month stint and going home. As the movie makes evident, everything has changed for them, forever.

Beautifully (and scarily) filmed and deeply moving, Armadillo won the Critics' Week prize at Cannes in 2010. It is a disturbing undertaking about the realities of battle; for 'you-are-there' intensity, this film can't be beat. On the other hand, for those who already understand that war is hell, Armadillo is just one more visit to that godforsaken landscape.


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