Krigen / A War (2015)
Dir: Tobias Lindholm
This is a really solid Danish film that spans the genres of war, family and courtroom drama with equal effectiveness.
A commander on tour in Afghanistan is sent back home to Denmark after a decision he makes in the heat of battle leads to him being tried for war crimes.
Starting with the simple title (which is in keeping with the director’s earlier film titles ‘A Hijacking’ and fantastic ‘The Hunt‘ (which he co-wrote not directed) the film sets a specific focus and keeps things relatively clear for the audience to follow, even when the moral implications are more complex for the characters.
The film is very well shot, with a 1.85 : 1 aspect ratio it makes full use of the frame thus looking slightly more documentary than sweepingly cinematic, a tone supported by the handheld camera style. This can be a bit tricky to watch, especially if you are trying to read the subtitles as I was, however the style works very well for the subject and settings. The military scenes look like they were filmed in Afghanistan, when in fact these scenes were shot elsewhere, the location choices and quality of production is of the highest standards, rivalling many other war scenes I’ve seen, managing to be completely convincing (at least for me as I’ve not actually been to the middle east).
The film starts quietly, interrupted by sudden noise and dramatic action, the first of a few difficult situations our main character Claus has to deal with. We switch between the two main settings of war in Afghanistan and back home in Denmark for the first half. Insights on his thinking are made clear, the Afghan children remind Claus of his own children he’s missing back home, who we see more than he does. Often following mum Maria as she handles everyday life with the three children and faces her own equally life-threatening emergencies back at home.
Both parents are stressed, Claus in particular is sleepless and put in a difficult position with pressures mounting up, yet taking on extra responsibility of being out on patrol with his men. In the heat of battle he makes a bad decision, one that we can see exactly why, yet it comes back to have serious ramifications. When he’s sent back home, the film gives a little more of the domestic drama before turning into a courtroom drama, with a small court hearing.
The film doesn’t feature a huge cast, focus is kept on the main family, with smaller roles for fellow soldiers (played by real soldiers who had actually served in Afghanistan) and legal figures. In that way it keeps it nicely clear as to where our attention goes, on Claus and his family who we get to know quite well. Lead actor Pilou Asbæk is a familiar face to me as I watched ‘Borgen’, as is another key character for the same reason. In this film however his character is so different from that previous role that there was no difficulty in putting those thoughts to one side, he takes on this role of leader and family man very well indeed.
It’s a very well-made film, not over-complicating the storyline as the moral implications are more than complex enough. Everything is made perfectly clear, we’re not left to ponder on uncertainties, but rather on exactly what Claus and Maria are thinking about, the morality of their choices. This is expressed in the simple but effective and poignant end.
‘A War’ is nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for ‘Best Foreign Film’.