Danish star pairing of actor Pilou Asbaek and director Tobias Lindholm make a powerful study of the human effects of military conflict in A War ****.
Just as in their previous collaboration A Hijacking, which swung between a captured vessel on the seas and the professional negotiator back in gleaming head offices, Lindholm gives an admirably even-handed account of events, this time toggling between a Danish battalion on a tour in Afghanistan lead by Asbaek’s man-of-the-people captain, and the captain’s wife (Tuva Novotny) and kids getting on with life back home in Copenhagen.
The lives are compared and contrasted: the Western affluence of kids playing up, the school run and a frantic dash to hospital A&E after a household mishap; versus the Afghan villagers and goat herders threatened by the Taliban and scrabbling to live in their stone compound. Everything’s a bit frazzled by the war – Skype calls and judgement calls.
When Asbaek’s troops come under fire during a routine patrol, he orders an aerial rescue attack but without proper procedure, and suddenly finds himself court-martialled for the murder of civilians.
The nightmare of a domestic court case now takes over the film, the war following him back home, into his lovely Ikea-style home. “Daddy, did you really kill children like they say?” asks his little boy, and your heart breaks.
All this is very well handled and Lindholm’s icily factual directing style (also seen in Borgen, of course) exerts a slow-build of fascination and emotion as the questions pile up, little problems that eventually amount to major issues of morality, responsibility and humanity. All of which become tools of attack and defence for lawyers, a war in a tiny courtroom.
Asbaek proves a charismatic and sensitive actor – so much goes on inside this character and it’s to his great credit we are able to read such thoughts on the actor’s face. With Asbaek about to star in Game of Thrones and the Scandi new wave continuing to crest, A War could be a decent bet for an Oscar nomination – it’s already made on the Foreign Language Film longlist…