🇩🇰 A WAR 🇩🇰
A WAR aka Krigen (2015) is a Danish crime-drama, legal thriller film available on Amazon Prime Video U.K. rent/buy £3.49/5.99; Roku, Tubi, Vudu, Kanopy etc. US. 15 Cert U.K. 1hr 55 min. Danish with subtitles [and cc].
“Company commander Claus M. Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) and his men are stationed in an Afghan province. Meanwhile back in Denmark Claus’ wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) is trying to hold everyday life together with a husband at war and three children missing their father. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in heavy crossfire and in order to save his men, Claus makes a decision that has grave consequences for him – and his family back home.” Nordisk Film Production
Pilou Asbæk as Claus M. Pedersen
Tuva Novotny as Maria Pedersen
Søren Malling as Martin R. Olsen
Charlotte Munck as Kajsa Danning
Dar Salim as Najib Bisma
Dulfi Al-Jabouri as Lufti ‘Lasse’ Hassan
Cecilie Elise Sondergaard as Figne
Adam Chessa as Julius
Andreas Buch Bogwardt as Elliot
Petrine Agger as Ulla
Martin Tamm Andersen as Michael Chidekel
Christian ‘Krolle’ Pedersen as Kenneth ‘Slagter/Butcher’ Jensen
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Cinematographer: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck
Sound: Morten Green
Music: Sune Wagner (as Sune Rose Wagner)
Editing: Adam Nielsen
Make-Up: Paul McGuiness & Björg Serup
Special Effects: Ozan Akman & Juan Ramón Molina (Spain)
Stunt Coordinators: Ignacio Herráez (Spain), Serdar Taskesenlioglu, Assistant Mehmet Ozdemir
Costumer: Beril Sinan
Except for the main characters, the soldiers are played by actual Danish soldiers who had served in Afghanistan. They were consulted to make everything in the field as realistic as possible.
Filming took place in Copenhagen and the Konya province of Turkey and Almeria, Spain.
⚠️ This review contains some spoilers ⚠️
For full disclosure, I am very a big fan of Tobias Lindholm’s films and loved the recent TV miniseries The Investigation. A War is not only award-winning but also has three favourite Danish actors in the cast, Pilou Asbæk, Dar Salim and Søren Malling. From the trailer I knew this film was not going to be “easy watching”, so what did I make of this film about a war?
“You can’t imagine, what it means to be out there.”
A War is created to enable the viewer to realise something of what it is “to be out there.” It opens with a group of Danish soldiers patrol and rapidly accelerates into shock and tragedy when a 21-year-old soldier steps on an IED and bleeds out before he can be evacuated. This scene is graphic, realistic and very upsetting. It is this incident that sets into motion a series of events that lead to further tragedies and possible imprisonment.
The morale of the unit is badly affected by this loss with one of the men so traumatised that he just wants to go home. And this is the point where we start to appreciate what sort of commander Claus Pedersen is. There’s no “man up and pull yourself together” rather there’s a sympathetic ear and a helpful decision accompanied by a cup of coffee. To improve morale Claus goes out on patrol himself. He is clear in his mind as to why Danish military presence is important in the fight against the Taliban.
We then have a series of events including children being used as a shield, helping an injured child, a family murdered etc. There is an image of a small child’s bare feet poking out from under a bedsheet which is deeply affecting.
Remember those feet… Claus Pedersen does.
Meanwhile, and this is a vital part of the story, we cut back and forth to Claus’s wife, Maria, back home in Denmark single-handedly bringing up 3 young children. The youngest son is too young to understand, the eldest (daughter) seems to cope well. However, the middle boy is the one most adversely affected by his father’s absence and grasp of what he does and as a result, he acts up and lashes out.
One can only admire Maria as she deals with difficulties all the time while missing her husband terribly. The only contact they have is via a satellite phone and that is often unreliable or things happen that stop calls being made.
So we have the clear impact established in this film of the war upon the men themselves and those on the “home front”. We also see a very clear contrast between life in Denmark and Afghanistan.
Claus Pedersen has enormous pressures upon him both from what is happening daily for him and his unit but also knowing that things at home are difficult all combined with missing his wife and children whilst also feeling guilty because he should be with them.
These pressures upon Claus come to a head where out on patrol again, tired from lack of sleep, and despite advice from his best friend Najib, they come across a Taliban atrocity which is connected to them all (more guilt for an action not taken) and are then suddenly under heavy artillery fire. One of his soldiers is very seriously wounded and whilst they are under bombardment he makes a command decision that ultimately ends up with him in court on a war crime charge.
By this point in the film (about halfway through) Claus returns to Denmark and we see both his ‘normal’ family life and the ensuing court case. Unanswerable questions from children and pressure from a wife who, quite rightly, has her welfare and that of their children in the forefront of her thoughts.
Some may find the second half of the film slow (I didn’t, personally) because much revolves around the legalities of a decision made under almost unimaginable pressure. No spoilers as to what the final verdict of the court is.
Pilou Asbæk’s performance in this film is simply phenomenal, showing nuance and restraint which makes it far more affecting when Claus does break down, or when he sees the photographs of his victims. Tuva Novotny impresses as Maria and the children are so natural in their performances. Dar Salim and Søren Malling never disappoint and Charlotte Munck does a great job as the prosecutor. A great ensemble cast.
The cinematography and editing are both spectacular in the way that they convey realism and a documentary-like feel to the film. The sound design compliments this as it uses silence (or soft ambient sounds) very effectively especially when set against sudden explosive noise. You can hear the panicked or distressed soldiers breathing, the slow humming of the sniper taking his shot, birdsong. Make-up injury details are faultless. The special effects of the bombardment are incredible and combined with the sound design makes you feel that you are in the midst of it all.
There is immense tension built into all the Afghanistan scenes where even casual visitors could be suicide bombers. Honestly, parts had me holding my breath and that was within two minutes of the film starting! Once we encounter the first horrific incident we as the audience are also primed for whatever comes next. Tension is also well-maintained in the court scenes which are such a contrast to the actuality of the war.
A War is not an action movie, nor does it have clear cut, gung-ho heroes. As a war movie, or rather, a film about war, it is very realistic and deeply affecting. What A War does do is ask questions, big questions, uncomfortable questions. Questions about morals and ethics, the situations and pressures military personnel are put under and the decisions they are expected to make. We see there is an inbuilt conflict between protecting one’s men whilst protecting a civilian population in an unconventional area of operations. We can also appreciate how many of these servicemen and women will never truly recover from what they have experienced and seen.
If nothing else, we know by the end that Claus is still bearing enormous guilt. After all, how do you make a decision where there is no right answer?
Different viewers will have different sympathies and reactions to the final verdict and I am positive that this is the film’s intent. This is a powerful and emotional film that does not pull its punches (it bright me to tears on several occasions, even now thinking and writing about it) but it is also remarkably lacking in what feels like audience manipulation. Expect to be challenged and to get angry at points (I was). This film will stay with me for a long time.
8 Wins & 26 Nominations
Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year 2016
Bodil Awards (2016) Cinematographer ~ Magnus Nordenhof Jønck
Danish Film Awards (Robert, 2016) Best Actress ~ Tuva Novotny
Jerusalem Film Festival (2016) Best International Feature – Honorable Mention
Munich Film Festival (2016) German Cinema Award for Peace ~ Tobias Lindholm
Portland International Film Festival (2016) Audience Award Best Narrative Feature ~ Tobias Lindholm
Zagreb Film Festival (2015) Best Film ~ Tobias Lindholm
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