Much like Restrepo, this Danish doco follows a young unit through Afghanistan. Much like Restrepo, this doco shows a bunch of young conscripts bumbling through a foreign country, seemingly forever under fire and finding themselves in the middle of a local scandal revolving around the death of a cow. The value and importance of simple things like livestock – and tradability thereof – seem to elude these guys. And much like Restrepo both films show the occupying forces trying to subdue the local population with little understanding of the sheer outright horror and death they are inflicting.
Both the Danish and US forces are at pains to point out how they are looking for adventure, a touch of ‘boy’s own adventure’ type larkery; one prescient scene in Armadillo shows a couple of wide-eyed soldiers whooping slaughtering pixelated enemies on their PS3. On the job training I think they call it. Is it any wonder they have trouble connecting with those on the other side of the barrel. It’s all one big computer game for them.
What is clear from both of these docos is that Afghanis are perplexed that the occupiers don’t get it – they put locals in an invidious position: collaborate and the Taliban will kill them, help the Taliban and the Allied forces kill them or lock them up. War is tragedy on an enormous scale; every day the subjects of these docos go back to protected barracks.
In fairness, Armadillo does attempt to storyline the larger picture – the soldiers’ role in Afghanistan, where they are, provides more context. It is the better for it. But both are hobbled by the rules of access – these aren’t the stories of the victims (deliberately so) and in their own different ways they lionise the troops that occupy Afghanistan. This one is more warts and all, and they are some tremendously ugly warts.