Even if you’ve seen the terrific Oscar-nominated documentary, Restrepo, you owe it to yourself to watch Armadillo by Janus Metz. An award-winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this Danish production is a riveting and cinematic examination of one group of soldiers stationed in an Afghanistan base. The young Danish troops occupy a head space that is more about survival than it is about conquest. That’s probably one of the key differences between Armadillo and the admittedly similar Restrepo: these European natives aren’t as personally motivated to fight the enemy. They are doing it because they have to, because they’re young and somewhat indifferent. Metz lived with the troops, and managed to capture the intensity of their existence, with stunning cinematography. Armadillo opened in New York this weekend, and will come to a few cities over the next couple of weeks.
For Filmmaker Magazine, Damon Smith spoke with recent Brooklyn transplant Janus Metz about his film:
Filmmaker: Given the prevalence of imagery that already circulates in our societies, particularly among young men, how do you simply avoid reproducing what they’re already familiar with from video games and war films, that whole stream of images they’re already bombarded with?
Metz: It’s a very difficult question, because I’m sure a lot of young people who see Armadillo are going to head straight to the enrollment office. That’s exactly what they want –- a kick, a kind of thrill that the film certainly portrays. So I don’t have a clear answer for that. It’s always in the eyes of the beholder. Just as many people will find it repulsive and refrain from it. I don’t see myself as a politician or as someone who has to impose a certain morality on my audiences because it’s all in the film. I show myself as the author and what my ethics are but I can’t guarantee every reception of the film. Paradoxically, you find some of the most diehard fans of antiwar movies in the army. They all watch Apocalypse Now and films that deal directly with disillusionment and primitivization. It’s a paradox I’m not sure how to overcome.
Filmmaker: There were repercussions after the film debuted in Denmark last year. Where did it all lead?
Metz: Well, there was an official investigation opened against the soldiers in the film, but no one was convicted. When I came back with the material from Afghanistan, I sat down with an expert on these matters to determine whether there was any documentation of a war crime. And the conclusion was that there was none. So in order for them to be convicted, they would have had to confess. And as you can see very clearly in the film, they choose to tell a particular story about that incident, leaving out other aspects. So I’ve always regarded this investigation as a political statement. I was pretty sure these soldiers were going to walk. Even to me, this is not a clear-cut image, it’s a grey zone. You could just as well argue, as the army has done and the soldiers do in the film, that they didn’t have any choice. But as a filmmaker, it was more interesting to me that these grey zones happen all the time in the war.