I just recently became aware of a Russian film about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and found it streaming on Netflix. Although the movie begins with an ominous “From The Ministry of Culture and Art” this film was apparently fairly controversial in Russia and wasn’t merely a state-sponsored propaganda movie. In fact, it didn’t at all shy away from the horrors of Russia’s war in Afghanistan.
“9 Rota” or “9th Company” in English has also warranted comparisons to “Full Metal Jacket”, about America’s Cold War quagmire in Vietnam. Like Kubrick’s film, 9 Rota begins with the intake of young Russian conscripts and proceeds to follow them through their training is Uzbekistan before the recruits are shipped off to Afghanistan. Like Arleigh Ermy’s character in Full Metal Jacket, the Drill Sergeant in 9 Rota puts the recruits through hell, taking them through one torture session after the next. There are some funny moments as well, the recruits engaging in the usual hijinx that you would expect from young soldiers.
I’m sure that some people will feel that the makers of 9 Rota directly lifted the format from Full Metal Jacket, but I think its important to acknowledge to commonalities that soldiers share, often crossing over and between different nations and cultures. Although this movie is about Russian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan in 1988, I experienced much of the same as an American soldier fighting in Afghanistan in 2004. The first arrival in Bagram Airfield was especially familiar as I recall my first glimpse of the mountains as the aircraft’s ramp lowered, much like in this film.
Although I really liked this movie, I felt that it got a little melodramatic at times. The plight of the Russian people is deeply embedded in the psyche of Russians to this day (take a look at Russian literature) but it felt like they laid it on a little thick in some parts. In one scene, the Drill Sergeant has his request to return to the front lines denied, causing him to have a breakdown. I respect what the director is trying to portray, the fact that soldiers have a very difficult time reintegrating after returning from war, but this took it a little far:
Arriving in Afghanistan, the soldiers are tasked to man a remote outpost in Khowst Province (also where I was stationed in ’04) to protect vital Russian supply routes. This portion of the movie is based on a true story. I’m going to have to do some more research on this topic to find out what really went down, but in the film the Russian outpost is overrun by the Mujahedin leaving a single soldier as the lone survivor.
The combat scenes were very well done in my opinion and give the viewer a decent idea of what the Russians were facing in Afghanistan. CGI nonsense is kept to a minimum if used at all, that’s right, you get real explosions in this movie not cartoon like computer graphics like in most American movies these days. The war fighting is intense and brutal as the Muj attacks in wave after wave towards the end of the film.
There are some other scenes that are funny and point out the absurd nature of war. The Russian soldiers are very familiar with the Afghan who comes to attack their outpost every so often with his tribal buddies. They shout insults at each other from one mountain outcropping to the other before exchanging automatic gunfire. There was also one fairly bizarre scene where the young recruits are running a train on the nurse’s daughter at their training base. This scene seems to stretch on for 15 minutes and ends with the Russian soldiers worshiping this barracks whore as their “Venus” and prostrating themselves in front of her. I guess this was some kind of metaphor for the death of innocence before the young men were shipped off to war. Whatever…
Despite some of the melodrama mentioned above this was a pretty good movie and completely unique from other war films I’ve seen. I’m glad that someone finally took the time to make a flick about this very unpopular conflict.