Theatre of War review – raw wounds and redemption in Falklands docu-fiction

This genre-muddling film is both documentary, featuring ex-soldiers who fought in the 1982 conflict, and arthouse drama

The end credits of Theatre of War state that the film was “part of a larger project composed of a video installation [called Veterans], a theatre play [Minefield] and a book [Campo Minando/Minefield]” – the last a bilingual edition of the play itself. Those multimedia roots are palpable on screen in this peculiar, genre-muddling work, which is in one way a documentary featuring former soldiers from both Argentina and the UK who fought in the 1982 conflict in the Falklands Islands. In another way, this is a highly artificial, self-consciously theatrical arthouse drama featuring mostly non-professionals playing versions of themselves and each other. One of the soldiers featured is actually an actor now, although oddly enough he is given much less on-screen time than some of the other participants.

Together, the men describe their experiences in combat straight to camera in a studio, or in a room with peeling paint or, in one disturbing sequence, using toy soldiers and bits of cloth to act out horrific casualties, like some macabre amateur YouTube cartoon. A disembodied arm holds up a dismembered toy soldier’s green plastic leg, and notes that he knew he’d found his comrade Vargas’s leg because “he always wore football socks with coloured stripes”. Elsewhere, recollections of suicide attempts, profound feelings of shame, and other PTSD-shaped reactions are recounted, at one point via an ad hoc, multinational garage band.

The obvious touchstone for this kind of self-reflective meta-docu-fiction cinema would be Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, which persuaded former death-squad leaders from Indonesia to recreate their own crimes for the camera. Director Lola Arias’s work is less startlingly original, more redemptive and psychodrama-inclined. It hints at the possibility of reconciliation even if these men were once enemies on the field, but without making the whole thing some mushy exercise in staged truth and reconciliation. The wounds still feel raw, even if they’re by now well aired.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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