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Sydney ’16: A, War review: A subtle yet powerfully honest tale about the consequences of decisions made in war torn Afghanistan

A must see movie that lingers long after the credits roll. A, War review direct from this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

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The immensely talented writer and director Tobias Lindholm – who incidentally wrote the screenplays for the Oscar nominated The Hunt and the soon to be released The Commune with fellow Dane Thomas Vinterberg – reunites for the third time with Pilou Asbæk in his Academy Award nominated film A, War (Krigen).

Set in a remote military outpost in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, Lindholm once again takes a humanist approach to addressing his themes of home as a war-zone, compromising morality, and the consequences difficult decision-making. There is no right or wrong in A, War, no winners. Instead, Lindholm and DoP Magnus Nordenhof Jønck visualise and express a brutal honesty so subtly delivered that nothing else needs to be said or done.

In war-torn Afghanistan, death is a very real possibility for the Danish soldiers under the care and command of Hæren CO Claus Pedersen (Asbæk).  Wanting to do the right thing and support his unit particularly, following the IED death of a young soldier, Claus decides to go out on patrol with his men in an attempt to boost morale.

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But the reality of life outside of camp is not always so cut and dry and the moral tenets one is raised with do not always apply.  It’s a dangerous environment, strewn with hidden IED’s, Taliban militants and innocent Afghanis caught in the crossfire. Forced to deny refugee status to a local Afghani and his family, Claus sends the family back to their Taliban terrorised village with assurances that their unit will return on the morn to drive out the insurgents.

Returning to the local village, Claus and his men soon discover that the family Claus denied sanctuary to have been murdered before being set upon with heavy insurgent gun fire.  In need of immediate assistance and a medivac helicopter for his injured soldiers, Clause makes a split-second battlefield decision to order an airstrike that changes the lives of an innumerable number of people forever.

Whilst the ensuing airstrike saved the lives of his men, Claus’s actions result in a court martial for the deaths of eleven civilians (mostly children) in the strike; a story-line that makes up the second half of the film.

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Back home in Denmark, Claus’ battle continues but on two fronts: firstly, in the courtroom where his actions are to be questioned and secondly, at home with his supportive wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) who is struggling to raise their three children.

Asbæk is compelling as a man who must make untenable decisions in an impossible situation.  He knows that his decisions came with consequences and willingly accepts the process of adjudication.  The use of non-professional actors in the first half of the film lend an authentic realism to the action on-screen with Afghan refugees and professional soldiers blending seamlessly with the three professional actors Asbæk, Dar Salim (who plays Claus’ second-in-command Najib) and Dulfi Al-Jaburi (Lasse).

The action is intimately framed and beautifully shot in natural lighting. The fixed and shaky cam shots – the latter may be a little disorientating for some viewers – make you feel as though you are part of the action whilst simultaneously feeling as if you are slightly removed and protected behind a safety proof barrier.

What I like most about the film is that it manages to tell a very powerful tale without any bombastic Hollywood fanfare.  It allows you to lend importance to each interweaving story without distraction and to contemplate the consequences long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Definitely a must see movie.

A, War review by Sacha Hall, Sydney Film Festival, June 2016.

A, War is available now on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK.