What is a war? For one thing “A War” is a movie. Nominated for an Oscar in 2016 in the Foreign Language Film category, this Danish entry presents “A War” pretty simply … and it’s still pretty complicated … and nothing about it is pretty.
What is a war? Set aside ideologies and politics. Set aside cultural and religious contexts. Barriers of language, presume for this example that this factor is essentially covered. Set aside the (supposed) clarity of a World War II. (How many generations ago did we have one of those?)
Trivialized, no, the circumstances of this film are real enough, plenty real enough. A company of soldiers – and they’re Danish, not American -- is charged with patrolling a sparse area in Afghanistan. They’re charged with keeping enemy forces at bay, with building a sense of safety for small local villages. How much patrolling and for how long -- there seems to be no end to the need.
Every inch of ground is suspect -- Improvised Explosive Devices. Every motorbike rider is suspect, sometimes for good reason. Every family is suspect, even the people being helped. Every circumstance demands caution and protocol and a throbbing pulse of volatile proportion.
In this film, an obvious bad guy gets sniped; an obvious good guy gets blown up; only one small battle takes place – well, not so small for the assigned contingent of soldiers; not so small for a cluster of resident families; not so small that even a weakly distinguished, insufficient strategic ground can escape the fog of war.
What is a war? It’s a soldier’s wife and three kids while he’s away and when he returns home. It’s a throbbing pulse of volatile proportion 3000 miles away from one small battle.
This film isn’t much more than the outline above, yet it is. Tension. This film parses tension very well. Provocation. This film stirs provocation deftly. Righteousness. This film treads humbly. See “A War.”