George W Bush’s notorious “Mission Accomplished” Iraq banner in 2003 is recalled by this excellent film about the tense aftermath of Nato’s withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. It is an intimate documentary study of the Afghan national army, in whose hands the fight against the Taliban now rests – a tough, perceptive, beautifully photographed film, and something to set alongside ’s great reportage documentary (2010). That film could have been criticised for focusing on US soldiers’ experience at the expense of the Afghans. Not this one. With great complexity and subtlety, it shows that the Afghan soldiers’ experience does not simply duplicate that of the departed Americans. There is a new loneliness and grimness.
These soldiers have been left to prosecute a military campaign that could continue indefinitely – there is no meaningful “quagmire” issue for them – and for them it has the character of a civil war. Low on morale, and often unpaid, the soldiers have little to hearten them: except their religious faith, which the film discreetly asserts. It is incredible to think that there are young people in and elsewhere for whom 9/11 is a distant memory: the single act of terrorism which triggered this ongoing geopolitical upheaval. Tell Spring Not to Come This Year has urgency and power.