Standing Up

Standing Up


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Standing up for what? For whom?

There are moments when you think you are watching Carry On Sergeant – Afghan style – and there are others when you wonder how sincere the Canadian officer is when he tells these raw recruits that they are a credit to their nation and must go out and make the changes, or the difference, to this clannish, violent, fractious country.

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Waise Azimi beds down with his camera and his alleged neutrality with the men who will make up the 1st Division of the Afghan army. As you would expect, all human life is here, the clever ones, the shy ones, the bullies and the thickos. What you don’t see are women, even when a bunch of the lads attend a friend’s wedding where there is a lot of masculine hugging, dancing and nudge-nudge marital first night jibes, but not a girl in sight. You don’t see the Taliban, either. The enemy might well be fictitious.

On those occasions when the virgin soldiers leave the barracks to practice being ambushed in the desert, they are told that they have screwed up yet again, are all dead and had better stay on the ground and take no further part. They love it. They lie there giggling.

The film has no structure and no narrative, which means no propaganda, and is hours too long. At the start there is a vain attempt to find out why these kids – many are teenagers – want to join the army. “Pakistani workers get all the jobs,” is a typical refrain. The sergeants and officers are tough on discipline. You don’t witness the recruits being whipped and whacked about the face, but you hear about it. One relieved recruit volunteers to be a cook and is overjoyed when he is accepted. He can’t cook for toffee but it means he won’t be slapped around by the NCOs anymore.

They make jokes about al-Qaeda, but otherwise never talk politics, or question their raison d’etre. Their humour is infectious. Standing Up makes Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket look like a fascist recruitment film. The Americans are so laid back they could be accused of enjoying themselves. One, languidly cleaning his weapon, is asked what he would like to do when he goes home. “I want to be a pirate,” he says, with a straight face. “I want to be a pirate in the Caribbean.” To a man, they are overweight and excessively polite and don’t seem to mind when the Afghans take the piss - in the best possible taste, of course. The Canadians, on the other hand, are rather serious.

“What kind of military is this?” one of the recruits asks. “Look at these socks! My heel sticks out a mile.” He grins.

Somewhere, on the darker side of this conflict, Taliban fighters are being trained to kill these men. It seems unbelievable, certainly unjustified. They’re jokers, not combatants. Not yet, anyway.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2009
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Training to kill, Afghan style, in the new American sponsored army.
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Director: Waise Azimi

Year: 2007

Runtime: 160 minutes

Country: Philippines/Afghanistan


Leeds 2008

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Afghan Star