Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Janus Metz, director
With: Mads, Daniel, Rasmus, other Danish soldiers and the Taliban
You can always rile up a Canadian if an American expresses surprise at this country’s presence in Afghanistan. Imagine how the Danes must feel. Even this relatively well informed Canadian didn’t realize that they still had troops there, trying, like we do, to make a difference in that tragic land.
Janus Metz’ brilliant film Armadillo will certainly change perceptions about Denmark’s relationship to the Afghani War. This tough, beautifully shot doc follows the six month tour of duty of a group of young, brave, naïve and occasionally thoughtless Danes as their platoon operates in the warzone around Camp Armadillo in Helmand, Afghanistan.
Young soldiers Mads, Daniel, Rasmus and their friends experience fear, boredom and a couple of bursts of violent action during that time. They try to interact with the local population but discover that the rural area of the Afghani nation is too terrified of the Taliban to make an effective change in their lives.
It’s hard not to like these young men, who call their mothers and girlfriends at home and are not very good at assuaging family fears about being in a combat area. Although there are scenes of silly male bonding—watching porn together, for example—their camaraderie feels all too real, and is genuinely affecting.
Near the film’s end, which corresponds with the lads’ final month in Afghanistan, they do get involved in a serious firefight. Five or six Taliban are killed while a couple of Danes are wounded in the conflict. The fallout of that fight—and how the soldiers dealt with the Taliban–raised some controversy in Europe, where the idea of the peacekeeping soldier still has resonance. As, indeed, it does here.
Armadillo is a remarkable work, deserving of the Grand Prix at Critics’ Week in Cannes. The honest, gritty film has gone to garner over 100,000 film admissions during its commercial release in Denmark. People should see it at TIFF.