"A War" by Tobias Lindholm (DK)
Venice Film Festival 2015 - Orizzonti Section
Name: Zuzanna Grajzer
So far in cinema we have seen wars in the Middle East mostly from the American point of view. Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker showed the influence of war on the soldier’s psyche, particularly its addictive potential, while Zero Dark Thirty attempted to present a bigger picture, including high-level political decisions. As one of the first films on the subject from the European perspective, an outstanding Tobias Lindholm’s film, A War offers a closer look on more personal consequences of the Afghan conflict.
Claus is a commander in the Danish army stationed in Afghanistan for a peacekeeping mission. After a series of events the soldiers find themselves in the middle of a chaotic shootout. Claus is forced to make a difficult decision, for which he has to take responsibility in his home country - in court.
A War is Lindholm's third film as a director, but he is also an experienced screenwriter, known mostly for his work with Thomas Vinterberg. Their last cooperation, The Hunt, turned out to be a sensation and scooped awards at festivals around the world, including the Oscar nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film.
The title of the film refers to different kind of wars. There is the literal war, in Afghanistan. There is a private war of Maria, Claus’ wife, who is trying to cope at home and combine her work with taking care of their three children, while the husband and father is away. There is a war, which Claus has to fight with the state of Denmark after being accused of killing civilians. Finally, there is a war of conscience, which Claus will probably be fighting alone until the end of his days.
In 2010 the Danish press and public were shocked by Armadillo, a documentary by Janus Metz Pedersen about Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. The level of brutality and the thrill of killing shown in the film did not match the image of soldiers helping to re-build a country, which the Danish people had about their troops.
Lindholm’s film does not present the soldiers as such anti-heroes, but unlike the aforementioned American films, it does not glorify them either. They are not even presented as stereotypical macho men - they are just people. We see how they live in the camp and how they take care and support each other, as well as in the battlefield. But in fact they are caught in the middle of a tragic absurdity, where they are supposed to help the locals, but by doing that they expose them to dangers from the Taliban. Therefore, their reasons to be in Afghanistan lose their foundation.
The actors, especially Tuva Novotny as Maria and Pilou Asbæk as Claus, with whom the director worked already on his two previous films, give simply brilliant performances. The handheld camera stays very close to the characters, observing them, following them, particularly during the hectic battle scenes. The bright, hot, empty Afghan desert contrasts with the bluish shots of the cold, Danish town, emphasising the differences between Claus’ and Maria’s struggles.
The director’s subtlety, the simplicity of form and the complexity of the story make A War great cinema. At the core there is Claus’ moral dilemma, which quickly becomes the viewer’s moral dilemma. Like the prosecutor said in her final speech: on the human level we understand, why he did, what he did. But was it the right thing to do? Did he have a choice? What would I do in his place? Is it fair to put any human being in a position of having to make such decisions?