Based on true events, this film describes the capture by the Taliban of an Ilyushin-76 freight aircraft in Kandahar during 1995. Accused of shipping arms, the crew were imprisoned for over a year in Afghanistan and almost forgotten by the outside world. The story centres on the drama between the crew members and their captors while revealing and sometimes challenging contemporary attitudes.

4
Tense Taliban hostage drama with a strong emotional thread.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL: Like a whole generation of Baby Boomers that were unaware that Vietnam was a French war before it became the American war, there are most likely a bunch of Gen Ys who are oblivious to Russia’s entanglement with Afghanistan or that war’s indirect role in the disintegration of the Soviet empire. Kandagar (an English transliteration of the Russian pronunciation of the Afghani capital we know as Kandahar – and not to be confused with the 2001 Mohsen Makhmalbaf film bearing that name) is set in the early '90s as Boris Yeltsin’s Soviet empire was in decline.

Based on a true story, this compelling film dramatises the consequences for the five person crew (seven in real life) of a cargo plan caught flying contraband material over Afghani airspace. A ragtag bunch lead by Captain Vladimir Sharpatov (Aleksandr Baluev in a potent performance) are gently, but firmly, forced to land and find themselves imprisoned in a small dusty compound. Watched over by Taliban fighters who still have bitter and fresh memories of the Russian invaders that their tribes held at bay, the Russian captives are forced to sit and wait for their country to come to their rescue. And they wait. And they wait.

The audience is of course forced to seat and wait with the imprisoned men and this film successfully meets the challenge of depicting isolation and even boredom without becoming alienating and dull cinema. Naturally writer/director Andrei Kavun is selective. Most of the narrative focuses on moments that are traumatic and when the Russian men are close to breaking point, but the film also accurately catches the incremental tedium that slowly builds before people are pushed beyond their limits.

In addition to the expected moments of heart-break when anticipated release from their predicament is delayed or the inevitable cruelties gaolers everywhere inflict on their helpless charges, the script catches the moments of childish mischievous repressed glee that unexpectedly unleash the aggression that has been lying idle underneath. A soccer game that momentarily bridges the gap between captives and captors, and a card game that has unexpected repercussions are two such thrilling scenes which lift this film beyond the run of the mill prisoners in turmoil scenario. With its emphasis on sense of camaraderie – sometimes breaking down completely – under extreme duress, rather than just the imperative to escape, Kandagar has a strong emotional thread. But when the film heads for its climax, Kavun shows he knows how to push those action adventure buttons as well. Kavun understands – in a way that many action directors do not – that the impact of cinematic thrills are in direct relation to our ability to relate to the characters inner lives. That said, despite Kavun’s experience as an action director (his film Okhota Na Piranyu is like a Russian reply to the Die Hard series) Kavun doesn’t overplay his hand. The final credits crawl underline the fact that this is a true story, and the script is careful never to strain credulity.