Afghan war film makes box office history in Russia

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A movie about Russia's war in Afghanistan, a topic that was taboo under the Soviet system, is breaking box office records in Russia. Fyodor Bondarchuk's Ninth Company took in more than $9 million US in its first six days, according to the Hollywood Report. It outperformed even Hollywood films in its first weekend, according to Slovo, its Moscow producer. The movie follows the adventures of six teenagers from Siberia who join the army and end up in Afghanistan from 1987 to the end of the war in 1989.

The Ninth Company was among the first to be sent to Afghanistan and was stationed in the mountains at a height of 3,234 metres to cover the retreat of Soviet forces. In the film, the company finds itself overwhelmed by Afghan fighters and all but one of the Russians die in a gun battle.

The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, beginning in 1979, killed 15,000 Russian soldiers. At home it was downplayed as a "military action" and discussion of its merits was discouraged.

Recent developments in Afghanistan and the American experience in Iraq are helping to create interest in Russia's Afghan stories, Bondarchuk said. He is the first director to dare bring the story to the screen.

"It wasn't possible to make a movie about the Afghan war in the Soviet Union,'' Bondarchuk said in an interview in Moscow. "And later Russia wasn't 'interested' because of the troubles in Chechnya."

Made with a budget of $9 million US, Ninth Company saw 1,500 servicemen take part in the filming. It was made in collaboration with Pinewood Shepperton Studios of the U.K., the birthplace of all the James Bond movies and Black Hawk Down, as well as the latest Tim Burton movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Afghan veterans who were among the 2.4 million Russians who saw the movie in its opening weekend say it helps legitimize their war experiences.

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