11 February 2016

Review: Danish-language Film 'A War' ('Krigen')

Dar Salim ("Najib Bisma") and Pilou Asbæk ("Claus Pedersen") in the Danish-language film "A War" ("Krigen"). 
Review: "A War" (originally "Krigen") by writer-director Tobias Lindholm

Currently nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language film category, the 2015 feature film "A War" tells the story of a Danish Army company commander deployed to southern Afghanistan. The movie opens in U.S. theaters Fri., Feb. 12, 2016.

After his unit's morale implodes following an I.E.D. attack, Danish officer Claus Pedersen chooses to leave the relative safety of the Tactical Operations Center ("TOC") to patrol alongside his troops.

From this vantage, Pedersen witnesses the life-and-death results of his decisions, both for the men and women under his command, and for the Afghan men, women, and children who are his mission to help. Meanwhile, at home, his wife Tuva navigates the challenges of raising three young children. When a command decision results in possible civilian casualties, and is questioned and investigated by the military police, Pedersen returns to Denmark for civilian trial.

The film is an accessible, realistic depiction of conflicting perspectives, and nuanced responses to war. Civilians and military superiors have the advantage of hindsight and high morality, and desire to see a situation retroactively resolved as either black or white, wrong or right. Troops on the ground know that there are no easy answers, and that many tactical choices are gray with uncertainty or lack easy ethical reference. Spouses understand the sacrifices soldiers make in their separations, but also live with the daily wear and tear those absences demand of family life.

Despite the high stakes, the film is not sensationalistic. In its content, the film evokes similar events and emotions depicted in the 2009 Danish documentary "Armadillo," without that production's highly stylized soundscape or surreal saturations of color. Instead, "A War" is a straight-forward, somewhat stoic story, in which are distilled many internal conflicts: What's right for the mission vs. what's right for the troops? What's "right" for the military vs. what's "right" for civilians? What's the right answer for legal purposes vs. what's the right answer for family? The movie quietly asks hard questions, and often provides tough, if subtle, answers.

(For a brief Red Bull Rising review of the Afghan War documentary "Armadillo," click here.)

Perhaps counterintuitively, that the film regards military and legal contexts other than that of the United States makes it potentially more accessible to U.S. audiences, and particularly U.S. military veterans. As a foreign language film, a U.S. viewer is likely to see all parties in "A War" equally as the "other."

Freed from internal questions about the verisimilitude of how U.S. troops should look or act (Danish troops are allowed to grow beards, for example), or the proper U.S. court-martial procedures, the viewer-veteran is free to consider the moral questions laying beneath the story's surface. Were "A War" to portray a U.S. military experience, it would be too easily viewed by soldiers as "Us vs. Them."

"A War" isn't about Us vs. Them, however. It's about all of us.


For a trailer of "A War," click here. Or view the embedded video below.

For an Internent Movie Database (I.M.D.B.) listing, click here.

A Facebook page for the movie is here.

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