This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

9 Rota (Devyataya Rota) ("9th Company") : Review

This is a film based on the Soviet war in Afghanistan and is set in the late eighties shortly before the Soviet withdrawal. The film takes a close look at the personnel of one particular unit, 9th company (9 Rota). The personnel were conscripts and the early part of the film goes into the details of their training. Unfortunately, it fails to show some well known facets of Russian military life like the hazing of recruits by senior conscripts, or the drunkenness that was so common officers confiscated even cologne from soldiers to stop them from drinking it. The training is certainly physical and brutal, with plenty of violence. There are scenes reminiscent of "All Quiet On The Western Front" but the trainers seem oddly humane in the end, certainly enough for the sergeant to cry at the prospect of sending his trainees into battle. (And there is also a scene of female frontal nudity, which makes one wonder why the film is only certified as 12 years and over.)
The troops arrive in Bagram airbase near Kabul just in time to see a Soviet plane being shot down by an Afghan Mujahideen missile. I thought this scene looked good cinematically but was historically a dud. By that stage in the war all Soviet planes were using diversionary flares as a matter of course, and this plane used none. Anyway, this is the introduction they have to war.
Later - and this is part of a real historical episode - 9th Company was sent to the epicentre of the battle at a height of 3234 metres (named later "3234") to cover the retreat of forces. An attack in a village by a child leads to Russian multi barrel rocket launchers destroying it...I could actually feel the anger that would make one do something like that, the desire for revenge. For me this was the high point of the film.
Later the company takes up position in a base in the mountains. Here is where most of the fighting in the film is located, with scenes of extreme violence towards the end resulting in the deaths of virtually the entire company fighting a frontal mujahideen assault.
About this assault: I did not like it. The Afghans attacked like zombies, walking in lines into the Russian guns and still making it through...and the Russians made no effort to call in airpower until it was virtually all over.
I'm told the Director, Fedor Bondarchuk, had ulterior motives of distorting the truth about Afghan War and the actual event is fictionalised. Bondarchuk is alleged to be a man who used his connections to avoid service in Afghanistan, then direct and cast himself in a hero role in a movie about the conflict he did everything possible to avoid. Again, I can't answer for the truth of this. I'm just repeating what I heard.
High points: Good acting, overall. Excellent filming of the awful Afghan landscape: how can anyone ever want to live in a place like that? Better storyline than "Platoon", though the two are comparable.
An interesting thing: in the actual battle for Hill 3234, in reality, only 6 of 39 Soviet soldiers from 9th company were killed. There were over 200 dead on the opposite side. In fact, during the filming of the movie, the actors were introduced to their original characters whenever possible for them to get a feel of the role.

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