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A War

Directed by Tobias Lindholm

Denmark, 2015

HOME, 9 January 2016

A War

It is not an uplifting portrait: war is futile, unrewarding, and traumatic for all concerned.

Yet you’d think that the alternative, to refuse to stand up to tyranny, would be worse. Or perhaps John Cage was right about not trying to change the world – you will only make matters worse.

In the film, we see the war through the eyes of Claus (the fine actor Pilou Asaek), commander of a patrol unit in Helmand Province. Though there’s a war on, children play by the roadside. Meanwhile, his family back home are suffering, an elder son misbehaving in school. Missing his dad.

When one of his men dies, Claus decides to bolster morale by going out on patrol with them for a while – usually he’s based back in camp. He engages the enemy according to the rules of combat; he helps out the locals with medicine and the like; he is clearly good with his men. Then one dodgy decision leaves civilians, including children, dead and he is brought home to be tried before a military court.

The pressure on these men is intense.  Because the consequences are so extreme, all actions must be considered  and carefully calibrated. In effect they are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

What saves Claus in the end, and this is the one thing of value in the whole awful adventure, is the social bond between him and his men. Housman and Edwin Morgan (his ‘A Third Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’) said it best, so I don’t have to.

This is a rich, reflective film which put me in mind of The Hurt Locker. Wars are never won.