Directed by Tobias Lindholm
Tobias Lindholm is a commendable Danish writer-director who proved his tremendous quality in intelligent, realistic dramas such as “R” and “A Highjacking”.
In his latest, entitled “A War”, he earnestly portrays a thorny occurrence that deeply affects the life of a soldier in two different fronts: the military and the civilian. Commander Claus Pedersen (compellingly played by Lindholm’s regular, Pilou Asbæk) leaves his wife and three little children in Denmark and sets foot in the Afghan Helmand province, where he orients a small squad whose purpose is to guarantee the safety of the population, often threatened by the vile Taliban. Their mission in the Middle East also includes locating potential suspects and exterminating them, in the case they’re confirmed as enemies.
The hardships of war are demonstrated in several ways by Mr. Lindholm, who starts his psychological assault to our minds when a young soldier dies ingloriously after stepping on a landmine. He was replacing another squad member who gets psychologically affected by the incident and, without trying to hide the tears in his eyes, begs his superior to return home. The request is denied by the considerate commander Claus, who can’t do much beyond assigning him duties inside the base, at least for some days. In the meantime, Claus’ wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), tries the best she can to handle their three children, but not without a few startling incidents.
The peak of the story, which triggers a complex moral question, is reached when, under heavy crossfire, the pressured Claus is forced to make a tough decision that will change his life forever. In order to protect his men, the brave officer, who frequently participates in the peripheral guarding missions with his patrol unit, orders a deadly attack on a delicate area called Compound 6, which he considered a military target. Shockingly, 11 civilians died in the attack, including women and children. Promptly dismissed, he’s sent back to Denmark in order to be tried, and facing the possibility of being sentenced to four years in prison for crimes of war. The accusation relies on a video from a helmet cam, photographic material, and testimonies of some of his men.
It’s during this final section that we’re swallowed by a critical moral dilemma. Claus is ready to assume his guilt and willing to confess his mistake, but Maria persuades him of the opposite, begging him to plead innocence for the sake of their children.
Unpretentious, unfussy, and never beyond the limits of reasonable, “A War” evolves in a crescendo, exhibiting perfectly-shaped human characters molded through a rigorous approach that reinforces the urgency of its anti-war message. The finale, not so soothing as some viewers would like it to be, makes us carry this overwhelming weight in our chests. The absence of musical score also enlarges this discomfort.