February 12, 2008 / 4:24 PM / 10 years ago

Soldier film feeds German Afghanistan debate

BERLIN (Reuters) - When director Brigitte Bertele shot her film about a traumatized German soldier returning from Afghanistan, she did not think its release would coincide with a heated debate about the deployment of further troops abroad.

Bertele's "Nacht vor Augen" (Night before Eyes) is set to engage viewers just as Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is under pressure from its NATO partners to send more troops to dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

"It seemed like irony of fate," Bertele, 33, said of the timing, adding she hoped the film would open people's eyes about the implications of a deployment that German politicians have often played down as a limited humanitarian relief mission.

The film shows 25-year old David returning to his village in the Black Forest, where his friends jokingly receive him as "Rocky Kabul" and his girlfriend Kirsten proudly presents their newly refurbished apartment to him.

"All paid for with your danger money!" Kirsten exclaims.

But instead of showing interest in the new furniture -- or his girlfriend -- David locks himself in the bathroom.

The blonde, muscular soldier is haunted by nightmares. But he struggles to share memories of his combat experience with friends and family who treat his time in the war zone like an exotic holiday.

"Why are you carrying a weapon?" David's mother exclaims as she glances over his Afghanistan pictures. "It's compulsory," her son says, as his young half-brother Benni watches him admiringly.

"He didn't really fight, did he?" David's mother asks her husband. "No, he was building peace," he replies.

Many politicians have been careful not to portray the Afghan deployment as a combat mission, aware that images of Germans fighting abroad still stir unease among many people mindful of the horrors of World War Two.

But Bertele said this stance was problematic.

"Since 1945, it's been clear that Germany would not participate in war activities again," she told Reuters. "But I think we must also be careful not to make this a taboo issue."

"If Germany decides to send troops abroad, then we must also talk about aspects linked to a possible use of force ... (Afghanistan) is being presented as a reconstruction mission, but there's huge psychological pressure attached to being in an area where you may fear for your life every day."

As David is training his admiring half-brother how to become a better soccer player and a tougher boy, he realizes he cannot shrug off the demons that are slowly taking over his life.

"Have you ever been scared?" Ben asks the older brother, who local media have dubbed "the hero from the Black Forest" but who has become a secret bed-wetter.

"Not since the age of six," David boasts, before admitting quietly: "And in Afghanistan, sometimes."

Editing by Catherine Evans

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