Playwright and video artist Lola Arias' first feature film, Teatro de Guerra, is a difficult to classify and emotional work that explores the conscience of the Falklands War through scripted scenes with six real veterans on both sides of the conflict.
Originating in video and theatre pieces, Arias has worked with the six British and Argentinean men for a long time and it is important to consider that they are active participants in a film that is both harrowing and cathartic in detailing their experiences. Initially consisting of talking head interviews that feature boom operators and boom poles, Arias uses Brechtian devices in order to remind us of the absurd and perfomative nature of war, yet stark statements such as "corned beef reminds me of killing people" from a British soldier who relates his dining on the food over dead Argentine bodies, cut through intellectualisations of tragedy. Arias effectively counterbalances this dread with strange, amusing and unsettling scenes between the veterans. In one case two soldiers stand side on and argue in a respectful but passive aggressive manner over their respective claims to the Falklands / Malvinas, separated by a map of the world. In another they perform a live rock song to angry and sad anti-war lyrics written by Corporal Lou Armour (the Argentine drummer holding a glare to the back of Armour's head after being instructed to 'play faster' is a particular highlight). Armour also teaches his Argentine counterpart combat defence moves that focus on the testicular area of the adversary.
Reenactments of fighting are clumsy but charming in a sense that echoes the action cinema we consume whilst asserting its falseness compared to the very real experiences of these men. The film is deliberately composed with mostly static and un-dramatic shots that do not exaggerate the subjects' internal trauma. Arias holds close on an Argentine soldier when he reveals his drug addiction and depression following the war, includes a seemingly superfluous scene where a Gurkha speaks on Skype to his mother which in fact empathetically contextualises his outsider status among British troops, and humorously depicts an interaction between the British soldiers in a bar where they complain about her overbearing influence. The film culminates with the veterans coaching younger soldiers to play themselves in a battle reenactment: they become the directors of their own traumatic truths. Although this conceit is not original and could be compared to The Act of Killing or Kate Plays Christine, Arias perfectly encapsulates the pain of these men in a way that grants them autonomy whilst they bear the malevolent legacies of Thatcher and Galtieri.
~ Theo Macdonald