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Interview: Tobias Lindholm • Director

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"In general, war is as life: complex and nuanced"

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- VENICE 2015: A War - Tobias Lindholm's third feature, in which he also "gave life to his words" - was world-premiered in Venice's Orizzonti competition

Interview: Tobias Lindholm  • Director

While making his own films, Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm has also generously supplied his colleagues with scripts: notably Thomas Vinterberg (Submarino [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile
]
and The Hunt [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
interview: Thomas Vinterberg
film profile
]
), Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (The Hour of the Lynx [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) and Roni Ezra (9. April [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
).

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When he started directing them himself, both R [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2010) and A Hijacking [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Tobias Lindholm
film profile
]
(2012) won Bodil and Robert Awards for Best Film from the Danish Film Critics and the Danish Film Academy. And the star of the films, Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, was also awarded for his performances.

Asbæk plays the lead in Lindholm’s A War [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Tobias Lindholm
film profile
]
, which was world-premiered in Venice’s Orizzonti competition (ahead of its local release on 10 September), stepping into the shoes of a Danish Army commander posted in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. At home, his wife tries to keep life going as normal with their three kids – but he can only call her once a week. And he is himself arrested, accused of war crimes: on a routine mission, and to save his men in a gunfight with the Taliban, he has the area bombed, and the bodies of 11 Afghan women and children are subsequently found amidst the ruins of the buildings.

Back in Denmark, he finds himself in the middle of a trial and a private battle to save his family. Lead actors Asbæk and Søren Malling are joined in the cast by Tuva Novotny, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim and Dulfi Al-Jaburi; the soldiers performing in the film are real Danish troopers who had been deployed to Afghanistan. Lindholm worked with his regular team of cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, editor Adam Nielsen and sound engineer Morten Green, and producers René Ezra and Tomas Radoor, of Nordisk Film Production.

“This is not a moral film – it is a film full of dilemmas. So I suppose I mainly learned – and this was confirmed – that in general, war is as life: complex and nuanced,” he said of A War, which has been publicised as concluding a trilogy that started off with R and A Hijacking.

Cineuropa: When did you get the idea of making the trilogy of “desperate men in small rooms”?
Tobias Lindholm: The idea of the trilogy actually comes from a misunderstanding: I was being interviewed on the phone by a reporter from the US – the connection was pretty bad, and apparently I had said “yes” when he asked whether the film was part of a trilogy. But the decision to make a film about the Danish war effort in Afghanistan was made many years ago. I was looking for an angle, and in 2012, I read an article about an officer who – before his second deployment to Afghanistan – said he was not afraid of being killed in the war. He was more afraid of being prosecuted when he came home. There was my story!

The Danish government has just closed the commission investigating Danish warfare in Iran and Afghanistan, allegedly because there was no more to investigate…
I cannot speculate on the political decisions as to why the commission was scrapped, but I hope that my film will lead to a conversation about what we contributed as a belligerent nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is hardly anything that defines my generation more than “we went to war”. Regardless of one’s political views, this is important to talk about.

How did you research the film?
Like both R and A Hijacking, A War is based on a thorough work of research, amongst Afghan refugees from Helmand Province, Danish soldiers who have been in Afghanistan, their relatives, the auditor of the Danish Armed Forces and a defence lawyer who has represented several officers in the Danish legal system. They all helped with their expertise and came up with details that hopefully made A War credible and authentic. 

What was your own focus?
I wanted to explore and discuss the complexity of the Danish war effort. I wanted to leave behind the idea of pros and cons, good and evil, heroes and villains, and instead look at the nuances in between.

Your lead character – what sort of a man is he?
Claus Michael Pedersen is first and foremost a leader who is responsible for 135 men in the war – this is the basic premise of his life, when we meet him. This responsibility takes him to the front, leading his men on patrol, for support and morale. This is his strength, but also his weakness. He is also the father of three children and married to a woman in Denmark – a husband missing at home. A man whose decision to go to war is strongly affecting his family life.

Do you like war movies?
Several war movies have meant something to me, such as Stanley Kubrick’s Path of Glory, which depicts an order travelling down the ranks of the military hierarchy. The final scene is the most simple and beautiful I have seen on the big screen since Chaplin. Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter describes life at home and at war in a grinding, beautiful and realistic way, which makes it hard to look at, but harder not to.

What will be next for you, as a writer or a director?
I love writing – that is where everything starts. The fact that I am lucky enough, now and then, to give life to my words is a privilege that I enjoy. But it does not change the fact that the great battles are fought by pen and paper. Right now, my full focus is on releasing A War to the world – when that has been completed, I will return to paper, pen and life.

photogallery

international title: A War
original title: Krigen
country: Denmark
year: 2015
NOTFOUND_filmregia_en: Tobias Lindholm
NOTFOUND_filmattori_en: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Søren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Michael Gade Thomsen, Alex Høgh Andersen, Dulfi Al-Jabouri

main awards/selection

Venice Film Festival 2015Orizzonti
Zurich Film Festival 2015 
Zagreb Film Festival 2015 
Crossing Europe 2016 
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