DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Brotherhood (Bratstvo)

Based on the memoirs of a war-veteran-turned-spy, Russian film paints a graphic, vivid and harrowing portrait of the War in Afghanistan - from the Russian Film Festival

Afghanistan, 1989. The Soviet army is on the verge of withdrawing from the country when a bomber is shot down. A literal Chekhov’s gun is confiscated from the pilot, who turns out to be the son of General Vasilev. Thus, an operation is set in motion to rescue him from Mujahideen captivity. The typical band of misfits are gathered, and have to deal with rebels, smugglers, traitors, translators and an increasing lack of purpose.

A film of many names and based on actual events, Brotherhood (aka Leaving Afghanistan) can be seen as Russia’s first Vietnam movie (Kevin Reynolds’s solid Soviet-Afghan themed tank 1988 film The Beast was an American production). Bucking the last years’ trend of flag-waving films – such as Stalingrad (Fyodor Bondarchuk, 2014), Tankers (Konstantin Maximov, 2018) and T-34 (Aleksei Sidorov, 2019) – set during the Great Patriotic War, Brotherhood quickly ran into trouble in Putin’s Russia by instead dealing with the Soviet Union’s forgotten war in Afghanistan.

Some veterans were incensed at the unconventional portrayal of Soviet soldiers. And clearly the protagonists in the Soviet military are not presented as paragons of virtue. They are guzzling vodka and looting ’80s artifacts like ghettoblasters and the Sony Walkman.

But perhaps surprisingly, the film is rather even-handed in its portrayal of the Mujahideen enemy (who of course history would later see morph into warlord factions and eventually the Taliban). The other are given a voice in the form of an erudite leader figure and are seen as more than faceless fundamentalists. I would have wished for more depth to the Afghani liaison, representing the Afghanistan government. In the few scenes he features, it is mostly to beg for harder Soviet measures against the rebels. But that a multifaceted look at the deep complexities of the Soviet-Afghan War lies beyond what can be expected of one film.

Brotherhood only grants a minimum of exposition in the form of overheard TV spots of the Soviet withdrawal, and to get the most out of the film the average Western viewer would do well to at least visit Wikipedia for a history refresher.

Even with accounting for some beautiful mountain scenery (shot in the Caucasus rather than on-location, naturally), the film remains gritty rather than visually sumptuous. Despite the controversial subject matter, the director did have enough support from higher-up veterans in the Russian military that it was possible to shoot scenes with authentic APCs and Mi-24 attack helicopters, which adds a lot to the sense of realism. Special mention must go to some thoroughly disturbing sound effects. Never has the horror of trying to breathe with knife and gunshot wounds been better portrayed.

The war sadly remains topical, with the ongoing Western engagement in Afghanistan’s war without end. The competent Brotherhood is a must for anyone interested in the subject matter. A rare opportunity to see Russian cinema deal with its very own Vietnam.

Brotherhood is based on the memoirs of Afghan war veteran turned FSB spy chief Nikolai Kovalyov. It screened at the Russian Film Week in December, a month which also saw a French DVD and Blu-ray release. Streaming rights yet to be determined.

By Truls Rostrup - 20-12-2019

Truls Rostrup lived (and enjoyed film festivals) in Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Taipei. Originally from Norway, he has now been based in London for more than 10 years. He was awakened to the possibilities...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Sexual diversity is at the very heart of [Read More...]
Films quotes are very powerful not just because [Read More...]

Read More

Frost (Šerkšnas)

Sarunas Bartas

Richard Greenhill - 08-12-2017

Lithuanian auteur delivers another masterpiece driven by deafening silence, while also making a meaningful meditation on the moral dilemma of war - watch it now on ArteKino [Read More...]


Sergei Loznitsa

Victor Fraga - 09-03-2019

War is ugly and absurd! Sergei Loznitsa's twisted and grotesque allegory of the ongoing War in Donbass has good moments but lacks the lyrical genius of his previous works - in cinemas on Friday, April 26th, and on VoD on Monday, April 29th [Read More...]

Battle for Sevastopol

Serhiy Mokrytskyi

Victor Fraga - 19-05-2016

Women on the frontline, blood galore and romance - this is the Second World War in a movie with a very Russian perspective and very American aesthetics [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *