MOSCOW — What’s in a name? When it’s Russia, and the name is Bondarchuk, a great deal. Though several notable family film dynasties in the territory, there are few harder acts to follow than classic Soviet helmer Sergei Bondarchuk, whose resume includes titles like “War and Peace.”
That’s not stopping his son, Fyodor Bondarchuk. In fact, latter’s debut feature, “9th Company,” has every chance of topping this year’s local box office. Helmer dedicated the film to his father.
Released Sept. 29 on a record 409 prints, five-day results totaled close to 1.6 million viewers, bringing in around $6.7 million.
Distributor is Gemini Film, which had recent B.O. toppers with Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch” and this year’s record holder to date, Djanik Faisiev’s “Turkish Gambit.”
Both of those pics were produced by and heavily supported by top broadcaster Channel One. However, “9th Company” originates from a range of smaller outfits led by Elena Yatsura’s Slovo production company, supported by state coin as well as some Russian and Ukrainian TV money.
Bondarchuk fils takes after his father in his ability to handle major action sequences, as well as a penchant for the drama of war. His “9th Company” is a gritty tale of the final year of the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan that spares no punches on the ideological front.
It’s an impressive debut for the director, 38, whose career is typical of the local industry over the last decade. After graduating from Moscow’s Film Institute in 1991, he began as a musicvid and commercial director, setting up successful outfit Art Pictures Group the same year with Stepan Mikhalkov (son of helmer Nikita Mikhalkov).
He also has played a number of screen roles — and took a lead role in “9th Company” at the last minute when an originally cast thesp became unavailable.
Shot on a budget of $9 million — the figure almost doubled during production — “9th Company” gets a great deal out of impressive landscapes lensed largely in Crimea and Uzbekistan. Visuals include an airplane explosion and mass aerial destruction of an Afghan village, shot without special effects.
But pic’s human qualities have been scoring most powerfully with Russian auds. Story follows just over a year in the lives of a group of conscripts, from enlistment through training to death in the final days of the conflict, and is based on real-life events: The company concerned was decimated in a final battle, without hearing from their commanders that the war was already over.
Overt patriotic motifs of the kind that have appeared in recent Russian product are absent, and episodes in training, which take up half the film, are notable for their brutality.
One of Sergei Bondarchuk’s best known works was his 1958 “Destiny of a Man,” a landmark WWII film that shares with “9th Company” a stark vision of the ugliness of war. The older director’s words about that work, “The war still lives like an unhealed wound in the soul,” seem as true today of his son’s depiction of Afghanistan.