War reflects on human behaviour during and after the extreme conditions of war and questions the effects of war on identity and morality. Filmed in different formats (DV, 35mm and a thermal camera), the film also mixes different film genres, e.g., interviews, archive material and fiction. The witnesses include a Dutch UN corporal who experienced the ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia, Cveja Jovanovic, a Yugoslav prisoner of war who survived the German concentration camps in Norway, the architect and writer Bogdan Bogdanovic and Norwegian criminologist Niels Christie.
The film is structured in three parts using a narrator reading poems from WWI as a backdrop for the story. Filmed through reflecting glass, the film adopts an aesthetic style that gives every picture a double image revealing the scenes and activities around the interviewed person. The photographer Anthony Dod Mantle has worked on several of Loftager’s films.
Jens Loftager was born in 1954. He studied philosophy and film and graduated form the National Film School of Denmark in 1989. He has directed a number of shorts, documentaries and television series.
Anette Olsen: Please describe your filming technique in this film.
Jens Loftager: By placing a glass plate in front of the lens and then angling it, the background is projected on the face of the person you are filming. It’s very difficult to handle.
AO: Why did you choose this aesthetic style?
JL: It’s a long story, but a very important story, too. Because regardless of whether a film is called War or Words, it’s still a film, and I had no intention of bringing forward a gilt-edged message, because that’s not my job. My job is to give a credible and hopefully true picture of what war involves. And this demands precision in the artistic devices you use. After all, the language I speak is visual, and I’m not trying to say something is terrible, or that these are the bad guys and those are the heroes, even though you can find them in the film. This distinction is incredibly important to me. To me the criterion of authenticity is not decisive, quite on the opposite. I try to show from the beginning that I mix the genres in my own sweet way because I don’t believe the Truth is just out there waiting to be depicted truthfully. Truth has to be created and one way to do it is to be precise in one’s use of cinematic devices.
In the beginning of War, Loftager uses fiction to describe how a German soldier kills a French soldier during WWI. The French soldier does not die right away but lies in agony in the ditch. The German soldier cannot bring himself to stab him again, however. The enemy has become human. The two soldiers are played by actors.
AO: In your film you incorporate fiction scenes. Why was that necessary?
JL: To me it wasn’t a question of necessity but it was the right thing to do. It had to be exact. It was an attempt to show in a nutshell the border between killing in wartime and killing as a civilian. That’s the development the soldier goes through during one night. And there is no other way to say it than by using fiction. It would be hard to find witnesses from WWI, by the way. And if something has opened my eyes during research, it’s the fact that WWI is of crucial importance to understanding anything at all in the 20th century. In other words, the permeating effect of the admission of great failure embodied both in the war and in the peace that followed the war.
So the fiction scenes had to be there. During the editing we found out that the WWI story form should be the recurrent theme, even though the script doesn’t divide the film into three segments. Apart from having WWI as the general element, we also wanted to let it be the backdrop for the stories people tell. This is why WWI poems appear throughout the film as a sort of mouthpiece or ‘beat’, you might call it, in order never to forget its presence.
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