Today: February 22, 2024

A War

There is a moment during A War that perfectly captures the moral dilemma that rests at the heart of the film. As a platoon of Danish soldiers await help in defusing an IED an enemy combatant arrives and lines up a group of children playing nearby. Their purpose is simple; to shield the combatant from the potential sniper fire of the Danish soldiers.

If you are familiar with the work of writer-director Tobias Lindholm this kind of brain-worm, the kind that gets in your head and has you asking what you would do in a similar situation, should come as no surprise. For having written The Hunt and written and directed A Hijacking Lindholm clearly delights in asking the kind of questions that mainstream cinema dare not touch with a ten-foot pole.

In this case the story follows Claus (Pilou Asbaek) a commander in Afghanistan who is increasingly concerned about the moral of his platoon. Back home in Denmark his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) raises their three children, worried about the impact the absence of their father is having on them. In the heat of battle Claus makes a judgement call that ends in tragedy and a military court case that could see him separated from his family for a considerable length of time.

Claus is a family man, but he has two families. His wife and children back home and his platoon who look up to him and rely on him to never put them in any more danger than he has to. He’s fiercely protective but in a war in which the enemy is willing to sacrifice innocent children what chance does he have?

Lindholm’s story is solid, his direction typically derived from Dogma ‘95, all hand-held cameras allowing for an intimate story. The narrative hooks you in but at times takes too long getting to the point. But it’s hard to bear it ill will because Lindholm wants you to absorb Claus’ every move, his every motivation and every reaction to the ever threatening, hostile world he finds himself in.

Tuva Novotny is warm and naturally maternal as Maria. Her early interactions with the children feel so organic you wonder if the youngest in particular might not actually be her son. But the film rests on the reliable shoulders of Pilou Asbaek. His Claus is a strong silent type, quietly calculating everything going on around him behind his ever-emoting eyes. The final act in particular allows Asbaek to truly shine as he internalises the harrowing ramifications of his actions.
A War is an intricate and deeply emotional quandary that highlights the kind of harrowing decisions that would haunt most of us but professional soldiers have to make in a heartbeat.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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