Armadillo: Shades of Vietnam
War gets under your skin.
For the first time ever, all Nordic countries are engaged in a war that takes place a long way from home, in Afghanistan. Denmark has borne the brunt as their troops are stationed in the volatile Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. Danish filmmakers have helped people come to grips with the fact that their nation is at war, especially Susanne Bier with her outstanding drama Brothers (2004). For better or worse, this hotly debated documentary takes a cue from it.
Director Janus Metz and his crew follow a group of Danish soldiers in 2009 as they’re headed for a six-month tour at a U.K.-Danish military base in Helmand called Armadillo. The going-away party has its fair share of booze and strippers, but the final moments on Danish soil is spent in the company of parents, girlfriends, brothers and sisters as the boys are about to embark their flights to Afghanistan. Once they reach Armadillo, the men they are about to replace tell the new recruits that there’s plenty of work ahead. The usual rounds of patrol involves getting to know the locals who all have grievances to share. Caught in the middle between clumsy international forces and ruthless Taliban who threaten to kill anyone who co-operates with the foreigners, the locals are simply sick and tired. The new soldiers have much to learn when it comes to handling these people in a respectful way, but also how to protect themselves in a very dangerous part of the world. Some of them came to Afghanistan hoping for action, and that’s what they’re going to get.
That “plot summary” may sound like any old war movie you’ve seen, and that’s a problem for Armadillo. It’s a little too smooth. The movie opens with an image of a chopper in slo-mo, making a whooshing sound, that instantly takes us back to Vietnam movies of yesteryear, and every battle that engages the soldiers is portrayed in a way that distances us from reality. In post-production, the sound of automatic weapons has been intensified, a tense music score has been added for extra effect, and the film’s bleak color scheme and handheld camera reminds one of Brothers. These are real people fighting a war, real corpses lying in a ditch… but sometimes it’s as if we in the audience need to keep that in mind because the filmmakers are a little too fond of their skills. But the longer the film goes on the more hard-hitting it becomes. The filmmakers wanted to show the folks back home that Denmark really is at war, and that is certainly accomplished. Those fighting it are indeed mere boys. When they’re not out on confusing and nerve-wracking missions, they seem to spend most of their time watching porn, playing shooter games or doing chores; the way they talk to each other reveal no maturity, only a bunker mentality. If you haven’t been there, you just don’t “get” it.
One doesn’t need experience from Afghanistan to see how that engagement is similar to other past wars. The filmmakers argue that we need to realize what it does to those fighting it and those innocents subjected to it. You may not agree with Metz, or even like the way he chose to make this film, but it certainly has a strong impact.
The YouTube clip shows the trailer.
Armadillo 2010-Denmark. 105 min. Color. Produced by Ronnie Fridthjof, Sara Stockmann. Directed by Janus Metz. Cinematography: Lars Skree.
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