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Armadillo is a tour of the war in Afghanistan with a company of Danish soldiers.

It's not the carnage, but the psychological damage
It’s not the carnage, but the psychological damage

There have been many Iraq and Afghanistan war documentaries in the last half-decade. Armadillo sets itself apart with incredibly polished storytelling and editing.

Armadillo is surprisingly cinematic for a documentary. At times it feels like a staged drama. There are closeups and establishing shots. Some scenes play as though they are written for a script about life in war. Scenes are assembled with footage from two cameras that never seem to cross each other’s sight lines, and some scenes have as many as 4 or 5 cameras. Armadillo has great editing and storytelling, on top of the still-timely subject matter.

Mads and several other Danish young men are sent to Afghanistan, somewhere in Helmand province, at an outpost called Armadillo. They go on patrol and learn the ropes. They figure out how the compound works. And over the course of a six-month deployment, they see action a couple of times. After they do, they are exuberant as young soldiers have been for millennia, and in-between, they face the worst sort of military experience possible, boredom.

But not every soldier is cut out for war, and during the film’s climax — a harrowing firefight — well, war happens. The most gripping shot is not of carnage or of death, but of a young man so stunned by the violence that he looks like a ghost. He has snapped, mentally, and he’s no longer “there.”

A friend who programs a film festival said she walked out of the movie just devastated and unable to function that evening.

Still, she programmed Armadillo at her festival.