Sydney Film Festival Review: A War (Denmark, 2016)

Simply titled and straight out of Denmark, A War dives into the thick of modern warfare and finds itself fascinated by the moral nuance that most blockbusters simply glaze over. It’s about a soldier coming to terms with a world that isn’t black and white – but not in the way you think.

Pilou Asbæk headlines as Claus M. Pedersen, a peacekeeping commander tasked with keeping his soldiers safe in an Afghan province. From the first moment of the film’s opening, he’s in his element, tense though it may be. Claus is a natural, if not ideal, portrait of a modern soldier and Asbæk is convincing in the role – even before the plot tightens the screws on him.

The crux is an ultimately simple, but poignant, one: how is a good soldier supposed to act when it all goes wrong and there’s civilian blood on his hands?  Claus’ initial commitment to taking responsibility for his mistakes is quickly besieged by political, personal and ideological agendas on every side, and there are no clear-cut answers to be found.

Claus’ return to the civilian world plays with the imagery of a noble soldier returning home but the context is all wrong. He’s home far earlier than he, and wife Maria (Tuva Novotny), ever expected and in circumstances that throw both their livelihoods into jeopardy. There’s a commendable uncertainty surrounding how everything will play out that sticks with you all the way to the credits.

It’s a simple tale but well told. Director Tobias Lindholm does a great job of presenting the story through Claus’ eyes, with the realism and intensity of Afghanistan carrying over into the courtroom. A sharp script lets A War scrutinizes our assumptions about the reality of modern combat and a strong central performance ensures you’ll emerge from the screening with a lot on your mind.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

A War is screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. For more information about the festival and screening times, click HERE.