Still courtesy of TIFF.
After the excessive hurrahs heaped upon last year’s The Hurt Locker, you’d think we need another study of militarized masculinity like we need another Saw film. By this point, after initial reservations about films like DePalma’s Redacted have tapered, the Middle East war movie is ready to enter its deconstructionist phase (cue: Freidberg and Seltzer’s War Movie). But if one film can test our ability to give a rip about contemporary war movies, it’s Janus Metz’s stellar documentary Armadillo.
Metz embeds himself amongst a group of fresh Danish army recruits dispatched to the Armadillo base camp in Afghanistan’s Helmund province. The film hits all the beats of the Middle East war film—wide-eyed young men struggling to become soldiers, warfare’s intoxicating contact high, and the necessary emotional and ethic numbing that combat demands—but it does so with such style and intense investment in its characters that you’d swear you were watching a narrative feature. Armadillo principally investigates the uneasy rapport between the NATO troops and the civilians that buffer them from lurking Taliban insurgents.
Overexposed as we are to the turmoil of boy soldiers (though it’s important to remember that these are real boy soldiers), it’s these Afghani civilians that provide the most compelling character studies in Armadillo. While many are openly suspicious of the stationed forces, others express a willingness to cooperate that is stymied by the ferocious ramifications such collaboration would warrant from the Taliban. It’s these interesting conversations—further hindered by intermediary translators—as well as Metz’s unblinking approach to the zone’s gruesome violence this distinguish Armadillo, even if the subject matter is as dog-tired as Operation Enduring Freedom itself.
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