Thursday, 23 July 2009

9th Company

Title: 9th Company
Director: Fyodor Bonarchuk
Released: 2005
Staring: Fydor Bondarchuk, Aleksey Chadov, Mikhail Yevlanov, Mikhail Yevlanov, Ivan Kokorin, Artyom Mikhalkov, Konstantin Kryukov, Artur Smolyaninov, Mikhail Porechenkov

Rating: 4 / 5
Plot: Based on the true story of the 9th company, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, as the young recuits go from boot camp to finally defending hill 3234.

Review: What is it about Russian cinema, which makes it so that nearly every film they make slips under the movie loving masses radar outside of its home country?? I mean personally I can only really name a handful of Russian films and they are all established classics such as “Man with the movie camera” (1929), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and the Night Watch films, so it’s safe to say that this film was another of those films which would have slipped under the radar aswell, had I not stumbled across it on DVD and I’m so glad that I did as“9th Company” is not a film setting out to make a political statement on war, which it seems has become the current trend, for the genre with films such as “Redacted” (2007) nor is it a glorification of war, the kind of boys own adventure films like “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), that featured through out my childhood, but instead it is a film showing war for what it is and paying respect to those who fought in the conflict, so that future generations might have atleast some idea of what they went through and it’s an style best remembered with Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) which was ultimately bettered by Je-gyu Kang’s “Brotherhood” (2004) and here once again it is a style which is used once more to powerful effect.

Opening with the raw recruits being drafted into boot camp, I couldn’t help but think of Kubric’s “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) which is best remembered for it’s equally brutal boot camp scenes, but it’s safe to say that as daunting and mean as R. Lee Ermey was as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, he pales when compared to the training regime of Dygalo (Porechenkov) who is might not be as loud as Hartman, but he none the less brutal if not more, with his methods of training the raw recruits, as he rules his regiment of recuits with an iron fist, more than happy to lash out and even on occasion whip them with his belt, with his favourite game to play with them, being to fill their packs with rocks, before forcing them to scramble up a steep hill were another squad awaits to push them back down. This sadistic and bitter streak we are lead to believe coming directly from, his experiences in the field, were he was the sole survivor of his squad, something which it is also hinted at having left him more than a little mentally unstable, especially when combined with his continued rejections, to his applications to be sent back out to fight, with one such memorable scene showing him crying in a field of poppies, which also provides a great metaphor for the friends he has lost to this conflict.
As with “Full Metal Jacket” these boot camp scenes form a large part of the film, accounting for almost half of the running time, but it’s these experiences which the recruits go through together which bonds them closer together, a bond which they carry with them even into the War zone, despite being separated their bond is still as strong when they are later reunited, making them more like brothers than friends, even to the point were they are willing to share the affections of the local girl Belosnezkka (Irina Rakhmanovoa), who they frequently refer to as Snow White.
Some viewers might not like the fact that none of the characters can be classed as the lead, especially with Bonarchuk spending an equal amount of time with each of the characters, preferring to view them as a unit, rather than a group of individuals, which also makes it all the harder to know which of them will be living long enough to see the end of the conflict, as Bonarchuk fearlessly kills off characters, with the climatic battle for hill 3234, being especially noteworthy as I felt like I was living through the final episode of “Space Above and Beyond” again, as I watched characters that I genuinely cared about being killed in front with little or no mercy, as they attempt to hold back the seemingly endless tide of Afghan rebels, to the point were I was almost certain that this film wasn’t going to end well. It is also worth noting that Bonarchuk has also chosen not to make a statement, with this film as to which side was in the wrong with the conflict, outside of the characters comments in regards to the failings of their government, while also including scenes which show the recruits, being lectured on the motives and beliefs of their enemy, something which is almost unseen within the genre, outside of the usually misguided and stereotypical views which characters will tend to carry with them, as their justification, for what they are doing.
Great effort it appears has been taken to help draw the viewer into the world of this particular conflict, not only with the military hardware on display, but also with the attention to detail in their surroundings and uniforms, which only help suck you further in, while unlike the previously mentioned “Brotherhood” and “Saving Private Ryan” the grim reality of war has been toned down, though not so far as to show how dirty and violent the conflict was, but instead losing the voyeuristic scenes of lost limbs and arterial sprays, though skilfully managing to not lose any of the required power of what you are witnessing, especially during the climatic battle, which at one point turns into a real blood and snot style battle, as the battle suddenly becomes a lot more personal, as it breaks down to hand to hand combat, as the Soviet forces desperately attempt to hold their position.

The downside sadly to this film though is the running time, which left me thinking that it could have easy had, some time shaven off as in it’s present state it feels slightly bloated in places, especially in the middle sections, were at times it feels like the same points are continuously being looped and that the film is failing to gain any ground, as it dwells on uninteresting scenes which seems all to similar to earlier ones.

“9th Company” proves once more that Russian cinema is still producing memorable, as well as moving films and that it is also more of a shame that more of it’s film output is not being seen. In the meantime Bonarchuk has created a film worthy of standing with the already established classics of the war genre and is a film that I can only highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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