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When are Films Political? (Part 3): Armadillo

When are Films Political? (Part 3): Armadillo

The film that knocked Prince of Persia off the top spot at the Danish box office the week of June 3 was the Cannes Critics’ Week documentary Armadillo. During the festival it had the Danish talk-show circuit buzzing about what Danish soldiers were doing in Afghanistan. There was such a clamour among the public to see it that the film was been rushed into cinemas immediately after Cannes, almost two months in advance of its original release date. On June 21 the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen paid a surprise visit to the Armadillo outpost but it was cancelled because of Taliban attacks on the Danish positions. Armadillo, currently showing in Danish cinemas, tells the story of two young soldiers on their first mission to war-torn Helmand province.

The Danish army which screened Armadillo before its Cannes premiere commissioned an official inquiry into the behavior of the soldiers in the film. The Danish political debate called on the Danish defense minister to explain the allegations raised in the film. Denmark’s extreme right wing parties hailed the film as a heroic depiction of their boys in battle and forces on the left are calling for a pull-out of the Danish troops in the region. Janus Metz, the film’s director calculates, the film has already been the subject of 300 to 400 articles in the Danish press.

Armadillo is the name of the “forward operating base” in Helmand province, Afghanistan that is home to 170 Danish and British soldiers. The incident that caused particular consternation comes toward the end of the documentary when the Danish soldiers are caught in a firefight with the Taliban. The soldiers are exhilarated after they finally kill their adversaries. What has shocked Danish public opinion is the suggestion (as one soldier later puts it) that they “liquidated wounded people and piled up the dead to take pictures of ourselves as heroes”.

The prime minister managed to meet troops in Camp Bastion, the largest international base in the region, and the main Danish base Camp Price, but because of attacks by Taliban he cancelled a planned trip to the smaller outpost of Budwan. Budwan, which was previously called Armadillo, is the setting for the documentary about the Danish forces in Afghanistan.

Can we blame the young men for bad behavior? Shouldn’t we be blaming the governments who are putting their most important future citizens in harm’s way in the first place? Denmark is reputedly one of the happiest nations on earth, but this certainly puts a damper on that happiness that some citizens are not being allowed to pursue in a civilized manner.

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