|A Danish soldier stares in shock after being shot in the documentary "Armadillo."|
When the killing commences, you’re as taken aback as the men in the middle of it.
The cameraman dives to the ground – we see nothing but flashes of sky, the ground, sky again. Then he orients himself, gets vertical again, and runs toward the shooting, taking us with him.
This is the epicenter of “Armadillo,” a documentary feature that takes its place alongside “The Battle of San Pietro,” “Hearts and Minds,” “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Restrepo” as one of the most eloquent stories of mankind’s most tragic enterprise – warfare.
The irony of tiny Denmark sending peace-keeping troops to Afghanistan is quickly undermined by the day-to-day realities of life on the front lines. The Danes are sitting ducks – sharing an advance post with the British, surrounded by fields and foothills, an unfriendly and frightened populace, and an enemy that can’t be seen.
Despite what look to be the most sophisticated detection and assault devices available, the Taliban enemy is maddeningly hard to find and engage. If they are confronted, they strike and retreat into the dull brown-and-gray landscape, indistinguishable from civilians.
The gradual reversion of the troops on their six-month mission to aggressive, reactive thinking is plain and painful to watch. The constant stream of aggrieved farmers who have lost crops, animals, friends and relatives to the stray and misguided shells of the “good guys,” the embattled desperation of their position, the vulnerability to sabotage – all grind away at the soldiers’ nerves.
When they get a clear shot at the enemy in the film’s central sequence, their relief at overcoming their enemies and their joy at still being alive is hard to dismiss. When repercussions threaten them, they close ranks and become stubborn and defensive. For better and worse, they are in full combat mode.
No matter what your politics are, “Armadillo” will move you. It makes clear that, if you survive battle, you will never be the same after it.
Dir: Janus Metz Pedersen
Presented at the First United Methodist Church
Saturday, Feb. 19, 9:30 p.m.