500 Days Of Film Reviews Armadillo And Finds A Breathtaking Documentary About The War In Afghanistan
After the Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan in 2001, it was left to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to try to stabilize the country.
However, as we now know, this was no easy task.
Armadillo is a breathtaking documentary that follows a group of Danish soldiers after they are deployed to Forward Operating Base Armadillo in 2009. Their job is to fight the Taliban insurgents - many of whom lie in wait only 800 metres away.
Is It Any Good?
Armadillo is beautifully shot and takes us straight into the heart of war. We are there with the soldiers during their ‘down’ times - playing XBox and watching movies - and during the times of all out, intense combat.
Many of the soldiers that we follow are new to Afghanistan and haven’t seen any real combat action before. They are eager to get started on what many of them view as an 'adventure'. They do not have to wait long.
The scenes of action are unbelievable - chaotic, tense, heartbreaking and horrific. It is often a tough watch.
Armadillo shows us how difficult it is for the soldiers - the terrain is challenging and they struggle to tell if someone is a harmless local farmer or a dangerous Taliban fighter. It is not as if the Taliban wear a uniform.
The Danish troops try to get intelligence as to the Taliban’s whereabouts from nearby villagers but the locals do not trust either side in the war. (If they tell the soldiers about the Taliban, the Taliban will kill them.)
The film builds this mounting sense of frustration, made greater as the soldiers lose friends and colleagues - mainly as a result of IEDs.
Often on the back foot, you can understand their need to let off steam and celebrate the small victories that they do experience. However, this also poses significant ethical questions for the group.
If you have been following my 500 Days Of Film Challenge, you will note that this is the second documentary film based on the experiences of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The first, Restrepo, followed a group of US soldiers.
It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the two films. For example, Armadillo gives us a glimpse into the soldier’s family lives while Restrepo offers no backstory at all.
Restrepo examines the impact of intense combat on the men it follows, Armadillo, meanwhile, focuses on the difficulties faced by the soldiers when they experience success - should they be allowed to celebrate?
Both films show how the soldiers have to deal with the dramatic swings between boredom and terrifying action.
In addition, both films left me wondering about the impact of the camera. For those watching, the camera and the film crew seem invisible. However, the soldiers must have been all too aware of being filmed. Would this have made them act differently?
At one stage, the soldiers in Armadillo are asked to volunteer for a dangerous night mission. Many of the men who the documentary had not focused on bowed out - too upset following the recent deaths of their colleagues.
The camera then watches a young soldier who we have been following closely. We have been in his house, with his family. He volunteers for the mission - did the camera have any influence on that I wondered? Maybe not but, as a more general concern, it is an interesting question nonetheless...
Armadillo gives us civilians helpful terminology definitions alongside the subtitles.