War, soldiers and the unspeakable

“Brothers” is a film from Denmark with English subtitles directed by Susanne Bier.

At the beginning, we meet Michael, who’s home on leave, a Danish career soldier about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Then we meet his wife Sarah, their two daughters, his parents and his brother — just out of prison. Michael says his goodbyes. The camera tells us that all is well at home.

The next time we see Michael, he’s in Afghanistan. A soldier is missing. Michael is in charge of finding him. His helicopter crashes. The next morning “the enemy” finds him. They lock him up with the soldier who’s missing. The soldier is cowering in a corner, barely able to talk. The Danish army commander knows none of this and dispatches two soldiers to tell Sarah that Michael is dead. But the sound of a helicopter signals a rescue. Michael comes home a hero. A romantic family drama with patriotic overtones? Not here.

Director Bier went into the closet of deep darkness and pulled out the most emotionally devastating ways to reflect on the intimate horrors of war that soldiers take home. In radio documentaries with spouses of returned combatants, you keep hearing the same mantra: The soldier who left is not the same one who returned. The disconnection, the dysfunction, the night sweats and nightmares, many tempered with alcohol and drugs. “Brothers” goes beyond this and then makes you think, “How can Denmark tell this story that seems so uniquely American, but we can’t tell it?”

In Chicago the movie is playing at Landmark Century. For dates and locations in your city, go to www.ifcfilms.com.