Film Review: Retrograde

You can’t conquer Afghanistan. Many empires have tried and failed to govern this region.  Even if you’re able to gain a foothold, it’s a constant uphill battle which you’re guaranteed to lose in the end. This is due to several factors. Firstly, there’s the inhospitable terrain, which comprises mountainous fortresses and unforgiving deserts; not to mention particularly harsh winters. Then, there are the historical qalats, which dominate higher ground, and a myriad of powerful tribal leaders who command loyalty from their clans.

After the horrors of September 11th 2001, the Americans, along with their allies, soon took retribution by invading Afghanistan. While Operation Enduring Freedom swiftly sent the Taliban running to the hills, it was never an easy peace. They held back by the superior air support provided by the US, but when President Biden announced the withdrawal, it was the beginning of the end. Retrograde captures the downfall of afghani democracy.  

Capturing the final nine months before the fall of Kabul, Retrograde is a scathing portrait of abandonment, incompetence and gross negligence. Academy Award nominee Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) takes us from just before the proclamation, through the increasingly rapid capitulation, to the chaotic airport debacle. His focus is on a young Afghani general, who becomes a figurehead for the government forces. Retrograde what documentary filmmaking should be. It’s a damning indictment of a litany of mistakes, bad planning and hand-washing. It’s one of the most important films you’ll see this year.

Retrograde is out in the UK on 11 November.

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