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"Armadillo" has quite rightly been described as visceral, and about as close to war as you are likely to get without actually being shot at. Even to the combatants it must all seem a bit surreal at times. I remember one soldier describing combat in that other hard hitting recent war documentary "This is War" as being "Like training but with real targets". Spookily enough the soldiers are showing playing 'shooter computer games' in "Armadillo". They of course soon find to their cost that real bullets are indeed being fired in their direction. It is a pity that this film has come out in the wake of Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's "Restrepo" and the aforementioned "This is War", which with the help of modern filming techniques have taken the viewer closer than ever before to the real front line. In this case to within one kilometer of the Taliban positions in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Close enough for some all too real action! Perhaps because of these other good films it has been a little overlooked at this time.
In the film documentary filmmaker Janus Metz and his indefatigable cameraman Lars Skree follow a group of Danish soldiers from the news of their initial deployment in Denmark, to their front line duties based at Army Base Armadillo, Helmand Province, Afghanistan for 6 months in 2009. It is to be a long six months for the soldiers. For those with an aversion to subtitles, be warned that most of this film is in Danish. The film highlights so many of the problems that soldiers based in Afghanistan face. The Taliban often merge with the civilian population making target identification very difficult, and the risk of non combatant casualties high. They are also a determined and resourceful enemy as history has so often shown. There is the ever present risk of being blown to atoms by cannily placed IEDs. A civilian population that sensibly refuses to assist the soldiers, knowing what the Taliban reprisals for doing so will be. Boredom is also realistically shown along with the usual soldiers banter common to every nation. The film caused some controversy in Denmark when the soldiers are shown liquidating enemy Taliban who are foolishly caught trapped in a ditch. This highlights the soldiers dilemma when dealing with a dangerous enemy, and a wounded enemy can be highly dangerous. This is a place where taking prisoners can be a highly risky game of roulette.
In truth the film does not add much more than the other two recent war documentaries, although it does contain a couple of very powerful scenes. The memorable image of a wounded bulge eyed soldier, and the adrenaline pumped reaction of the men after their first bloody combat exchange. Those of a sensitive nature may wish to fast forward the sequence with the dead Taliban, which is particularly hard hitting. The films use of filters, super crisp sound, sharp editing and post production colour correction give it a great sense of this is all happening in the here and now. As I have already commented in a previous review, if this is the future of war films then I really begin to worry about what is to come. Where can we go from here? The film deservedly won a prize at the prestigious 2010 Cannes film festival. This is certainly a film that gives you much food for thought. Another film that truthfully tells us what we probably all knew long ago. War is indeed hell!