Film Review: “Retrograde” — America’s tragic withdrawal from Afghanistan | Catch My Job


By David D’Arcy

reverseDirected by Matthew Heineman.

Now, more than a year after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, branded by conflicting media as “America’s longest war” for twenty years, barely makes the news.

Documentary by Matthew Heineman reverse Watch the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2021, mostly through the eyes of one man, a young Afghan general commanding troops in Helmand province, left to fend for themselves when the White House orders American forces to leave.

It’s not a happy ending and, as this film reminds us, it’s far from over. The pain of this compelling story is the gradual recognition of an inevitable defeat that spreads faster than COVID, ensuring the loss of a country to religious extremists who have vowed to crush everything they hate about the modern world. And they are in power.

reverse DOC in New York is now in theaters on the opening night of the NYC festival, right after Election Day – is that a coincidence?

The time has come for the Taliban to declare that they will strictly observe Sharia Islamic law. Women are now banned from parks, gyms and public baths. Internationally described as a kind, humble, modern Taliban interested in building bridges.

Heinemann, whose project began as an embed with US troops, knows the belly of the beast. In his documentary first wave (2021), he was as close to patients as doctors in the early days of Covid in a New York City hospital. In Mexico, where he filmed Cartel land (2015), street shootings were unscripted, uncontrolled and deadly.

By the standards of these two films, if danger and immediacy are standards, reverse Restrained, although using the term restrained to describe the early stages of the invasion of Afghanistan (as loyal American forces resigned or stood aside) is an understatement.

We begin at Kabul’s frantic airport, wandering around the now-familiar scene of chaos and terror, the Americans firing warning shots at the Afghans they’ve been protecting for twenty years from running toward planes.

The images on the screen are as contradictory as US policy towards Afghanistan. American soldiers, who had come as liberators from the Taliban, or so the government line went, acted like an occupying force at the airport as terrified families of local people approached them, kneeling in raw sewage in a ditch separated from them. Soldiers behind barbed wire.

A scene from reverse. Photo: National Geographic.

But the occupation troops were not really occupations, at least not then. When we see them, they’re trying to stamp their own foothold outside the country, threatening to shoot anyone who dares to cross a sewer ditch, defying decades of well-meaning American rhetoric and billions of dollars.

The desperation of Kabul bookends the film in August 2021, much of which takes us to Helmand province, where a dozen or so Green Berets, all bearded and out of uniform, talk more like social workers than killers. They are helping a garrison of Afghan troops track down the Taliban and prevent terrorist attacks. “We have the same DNA,” an American tells Heinemann. The local commander is General Sami Sadat, earnest, understated and well-liked by his troops and the Green Berets. It all seemed to work, until it didn’t.

A sequence, which highlights the landscape as seen from above, hints at a problem. The base, set on neat rectilinear roads with mountains in the distant background, looks like it could be Colorado or Utah. For twenty years, Americans have learned time and time again that the culture of Afghanistan is a different region.

Still, with US advisers and supplies, the place was secure. Then comes word that the US, after talking about withdrawing, is finally doing just that. They left, taking their ammunition and computers, before they could say “we do not form nations”. Piles of supplies literally went up in a cloud of smoke. The farewells are sincere, but the Americans leave quickly.

Heinemann, one of the film’s three cinematographers, has an eye for images that capture the frantic departure twenty years later. In one unforgettable scene, a soldier is tasked with smashing computer screens with a giant sledgehammer. So much for modernizing Afghanistan. As one Taliban leader told a US official early in the war, “You have all the clocks but we have all the time.”

from there, reverse Uncomfortably moves into a mood of fear, as Sadat and his men sense the inevitable Taliban advance. The first thing we see of the Taliban is on the drone monitor. At that time, Afghan forces could still target them. Then there is a shortage of supplies. Helicopters returning to the outpost had to turn back due to lack of fuel. Training of new recruits has been halted due to lack of bullets. Green Berets were prohibited from releasing ammunition to “partners,” army-speak for the Afghan army.

Eventually Sadat, for his own safety, was taken to the residence of the local political governor of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, where he marched into the small compound as the gunfire grew louder and louder during the night.

Morale among the soldiers drops when there are few to fight and the wounded pile up by the dozen, some of them moaning and screaming. The tragic faces tell us as much as the dialogue. Sadat’s troops are sure to come under siege and they know it. Even in Helmand province, where the horizon seems to go on forever, the security that came with great distance has disappeared.

We only see the war from the air in Helmand – although they still have helicopters, that is – although we hear the gunfire. We don’t even see General Sadat leave Helmand, although he later tells Heinemann that he discussed resistance in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who appointed him the city’s security chief. Ghani fled the country before anything happened in that discussion.

Sadat went to the UK, where he is now. The Americans won’t help him, he noted, vowing to fight back against the Taliban.

Now, more than a year after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, branded by conflicting media as “America’s longest war” for twenty years, barely makes the news.

reverse Revisits a small part of the end of that tragic chapter, where all roads eventually lead to the frenzied chaos that Heinemann film at the Kabul airport. Those of us old enough to remember the end of the Vietnam War (for Americans) will see the familiar image of people fighting to escape, as Americans and Afghans, allies up until that point, threw punches at each other hoping to gain a seat. plain

In light of what we saw decades ago, the rush to escape was sad, but not unexpected. The faces of those turned away at the Kabul airport speak with depressing eloquence. Heinemann had already seen the same cold fear on the faces of Sami Sadat’s soldiers. They knew what they were running away from.

David D’Arcy Lives in New York. For several years, he was the programmer of the Haifa International Film Festival in Israel. He has written about art for many publications, including Industry newspaper. He produced and co-wrote the documentary Portrait of Wally (2012), about a fight over a Nazi-looted painting found at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.


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