Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Movie review: Kajaki: Kilo Two Bravo, dir Paul Katis (2014)

Even if you are a native English speaker you need to watch this movie – a recreation of actual events – with subtitles turned on. This is partly because the characters are British and if you, yourself, are not a Brit you’ll have trouble understanding the accents. But it’s also because of the specialised military lexicon used to convey meaning. Shorthand forms of words combine with technical parlance to produce a rich and allusive argot to stay on top of which you’ll need help from Netflix.

With action films that have war as a central theme there’s often a lot of high-toned scripting that produces elaborate set-pieces. But as in 2010’s ‘The Hurt Locker’ (dir Kathryn Bigelow), in ‘Kajaki’ there’s less action and more character development.

‘Kajaki’ combines elements deriving (it seemed to me) from the Theatre of the Absurd with those taken from the action thriller genre. It starts with a man swimming in a dam (the dam is Kajaki Dam and it is on Helmand River in the centre of Afghanistan). This relaxing, recreational interlude is suddenly interrupted by an explosion. It turns out that two boys are using grenades to stun fish, setting the devices off in the water so that their quarry will rise, immobile, to the surface where they can be scooped up and put in a bucket. Presumably the fish are then taken elsewhere to be sold in the community.

I can’t say much for fear of giving the game away, but I can say that ‘Kajaki’ is an excellent portrait of masculinity. Men have traditionally been used for war, and it is their culture that suffuses this production. At the outset, the soldiers’ coarse humour appears uncouth, determinedly centred as it is on the body, but by the end the ribbing and the cajolery produces a demotic form of poetry as well as pathos.

A dark humour plays along the film’s narrative arc, linking the opening with the close. I wager you won’t forget this meditation on war for a good, long time. That is its beauty.

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