Armadillo: Not just another Afghanistan war doc

Armadillo (n): any of several burrowing, chiefly nocturnal mammals constituting the family Dasypodidae, ranging from the southern U.S. through South America, having strong claws and a jointed protective covering of bony plates. 

Armadillo follows four startlingly young soldiers – Mads, Daniel, Rasmus and Kim – on their first six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Since the USA-led removal of the Taliban from Kabul in 2001, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has occupied the area. 170 Danish and British servicemen and women based out of Forward Operating Base Armadillo in Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan, observe and patrol the surrounding area, attempting to build relationships with the local populations and push Taliban fighters northward.

After saying a tearful goodbye to their families, the four rookies arrive at Armadillo seeking camaraderie and adventure, and looking forward to the thrill of combat. With little-to-no on-screen interaction between the subjects and filmmakers, the men of Armadillo speak candidly about their experiences – from their lust for action, to their lust for women, to picking up the strewn body parts of former friends, it’s shocking to see how quickly these young men adapt to their new reality.

They are, of course, hardened soldiers – unflinching and unapologetic. They recognize the harsh reality they face and are undisturbed by discussions of death and dismemberment. For a documentary about the realities of war, however, there is very little visible bloodshed. While conflicts between ISAF forces and the Taliban are captured on film – including distant footage of wounded civilians and close-up images of deceased Taliban fighters – Armadillo is tame enough for more sensitive viewers, yet still conveys the raw brutality of war.

With an evocative score and impressive cinematography, Armadillo is not your typical war documentary. The film doesn’t attempt to influence viewers to approve or disapprove of the action in Afghanistan. Instead, it merely conveys the reality of the solders’ circumstances – the boredom, routine, violence and loss that comes from being entrenched. If anything, Armadillo runs the risk of angering viewers as the young soldiers share their uncensored opinions of ‘the enemy’.
Armadillo goes further than most other documentaries on the topic – interactions with civilian farmers give voice to the local population who reside in the ‘green zone’ between Armadillo and the Taliban forces. The film depicts the dialogue that the ISAF attempt with local civilians, answering questions, and offering apologies and compensation for damaged goods and livestock. It’s left to the audience to determine if these steps are taken for purely diplomatic purposes, or if the ISAF are genuinely concerned with minimizing their impact on civilian livelihood.
Amidst the proliferation of films, interviews, media attention, documentaries and debate surrounding the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Armadillo is a unique glimpse into the reality of soldiers’ lives. The film is engaging precisely because it doesn’t attempt to direct the views of the audience; it simply shows what is.
You can catch Armadillo at Eau Claire Market, Cinema 1 on Saturday, September 25th at 4:45pm, or at the Encore on Sunday, September 26th at 6:45pm.
*Originally posted on the Calgary International Film Festival blog

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