A documentary that follows Danish soldiers through their everyday existence in Afghanistan’s harsh Helmand province has won over critics at the influential Cannes Film Festival, where it was featured in one of the festival’s side events this past weekend.
Armadillo was one of the entries to the festival’s sidebar Critics’ Week competition, where journalists and film critics vote on their favourite entries.
The documentary follows young Danish soldiers who are facing live battle situations for the first time and shows how the deployment changes their views on war and on life and death.
Since joining the International Security Assistance Force in 2002, Denmark has suffered 31 fatalities in Afghanistan – the highest percentage of any country in relation to its population.
Many scenes from Armadillo show Danish soldiers in heated exchanges with Taleban fighters. In one controversial scene, the soldiers toss a grenade into a nearby Taleban installation as cover and then descends on the fighters, shooting them dead.
Some of those who saw the presentation expressed outrage at the scene, which led to the Danish military launching an investigation into the unit responsible to determine whether the soldiers had crossed the accepted lines of war conduct.
However, several organisations, including the Red Cross, did not believe the soldiers’ actions were out of the ordinary for a combat situation, and neither did the film’s director, Janus Metz.
‘Afghanistan is a crazy and complicated place and I’m no military expert,’ he told Berlingske Tidende newspaper. ‘So I don’t want to make any comments on it for political debate. But I think that most of our resources are going toward military efforts and we instead ought to focus more on foreign aid than on combat.’
Armadillo has been getting rave reviews from most critics and foreign interviewers are lining up to talk to Metz about the film.
‘Normally it’s extremely difficult for a documentary that’s not a part of the official Cannes programme to get any media coverage whatsoever,’ Stephen Lan, Armadillo’s press manager, told Politiken newspaper. ‘We’ve got 17 interviews booked as of [Monday], so Janus will be talking from 10am to 4pm pretty much without a break.’
The documentary has also been screened for defence minister Gitte Lillelund Bech. She called the film’s presentation ‘blunt’.
‘It clearly shows the pressure these soldiers are under when on missions,’ she said. ‘But I have no doubt that the soldiers know why they’re there – and it’s not for excitement’s sake.’