"Ninth Company"- movie about war in Afghanistan, reapes in the weekend more than any film in its opening

Russia's war in Afghanistan, taboo under the Soviets and rarely discussed once Communism collapsed, is now the subject of the country's biggest-ever box office hit.

``Ninth Company,'' about six teenagers from Siberia who join the army, reaped $6.7 million in the weekend after its Sept. 29 release, according to Slovo, the Moscow company that produced it. That's more than any other domestic or Hollywood film has made in its opening weekend in Russia.

Until the regime ended in 1991, the Soviets tried to whitewash their involvement in Afghanistan as soldiers fought for control of the country with Mujahideen guerillas such as Osama bin Laden. The invasion, led by former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, left 15,000 soldiers dead between 1979 and 1989 and is officially referred to as ``military action'' rather than a war, Bloomberg reports.

``The wave of interest, and what's happening to the U.S. and others now in the region, makes the film possible,'' said Captain Vladimir Vshivtsev, who was blinded in combat in Afghanistan in 1987, when he was 26. ``The film shows we weren't just forces there to protect the crops: it was real war.''

``It wasn't possible to make a movie about the Afghan war in the Soviet Union,'' Fyodor Bondarchuk, 38, the film's director, said in an Oct. 6 interview from Moscow. ``And then Russia wasn't interested'' because of the troubles in Chechnya.

Russia has a glorious cinematic tradition dating back to the silent screen. In fact, 9th Company's director, Fedor Bondarchuk, is the son of the legendary Sergei Bondarchuk, who directed the 1968 classic War and Peace, according to Business Week Online. A.M.

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