The current era of embedded reporters and palm-sized digital cameras has allowed images to surface that have brought the Iraq and Afghanistan wars home with startling intimacy and power. Yet the soldier’s-eye view can be limiting too, or in the case of the Danish documentary Armadillo, a little redundant. Following a few young Danes to a base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the film bears such a close resemblance to Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s chronicle of American soldiers in the deadly Korengal Valley, that the comparison is inevitable and slightly unflattering. Both are right there in the trenches as the bullets whiz by, both catch the fear and defensive bravado of young men in over their heads, and both note the breakdown in communication between the military and the civilians they’re trying to project. Restrepo simply does it more compellingly.
Covering a six-month deployment to southern Afghanistan, Armadillo follows four Danish soldiers of varying temperaments and job descriptions: Mads and Daniel have a gung-ho attitude in sharp contrast to their loved ones’ anxiety; platoon commander Rasmus coolly looks toward other leadership opportunities; Kim is a medic. What’s interesting about Armadillo’s subjects is how differently they and their American counterparts perceive the war: Based on their on-camera interviews, Restrepo’s American kids are so shaken by the things they’ve witnessed that they seem likely to be haunted for the rest of their lives. For their part, the Danes are either having more of an adventure or covering up their trauma with chest-thumping braggadocio; almost to a man, they’re ready to come back for more. Between engaging with the Taliban and hanging out in the barracks, they seem oddly content with the situation. The aftermath of a Green Zone firefight introduces a note of ambiguity to their presence there, but Armadillo doesn’t make the ill feelings stick.