Karlovy Vary Doc on Peru’s Military Recruits 5

You’ll probably be exhausted by the end of Paolo Tizan’s documentary observing young men, many of them teenagers, participating in a highly rigorous training program conducted by the Peruvian military. The filmmaker spent ten months embedded with the recruits hoping to serve as soldiers in the region known as VRAEM, where much of the country’s coca plants are grown and drug trafficking takes place. Night Has Come, receiving its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, immerses you in the recruits’ training so thoroughly that you come away feeling as if you’ve gone through it yourself.

Eschewing narration or intertitles, the documentary offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the young recruits as they go through their paces, beginning with a parachute jump. Every part of their bodies is measured, as if they were prize stallions. They’re shown talking about their lives in highly personal terms, such as one young man who says that he grew up afraid of his father, who beat both him and his brother when they were young. Now he wants his dad to be proud of having a military son, but when he speaks to him on the phone it immediately becomes clear that their relationship is severely strained. When he calls his mother, she offers comfort but little help.

NIght Has Come

The Bottom Line

Immersive to a fault.

Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Director: Paolo Tizan

1 hour 35 minutes

The training is brutal and frequently dangerous, as evidenced by one of the film’s most intense scenes, in which a trainee accidentally gets shot in the chest and has to be stabilized in the field. At one point, three recruits, jeeringly referred to by the other men as “The Three Stooges,” are forced to engage in a series of exercises while carrying a heavy tree trunk emblazoned with the phrase “Pain is Temporary.”

The pain may be temporary, but it’s also very common in the course of the training, as illustrated by a harrowing sequence in which we watch recruits being deluged by torrential jets of water that nearly knock them off their feet. The harsh military mindset endemic to the process is illustrated when they’re told that they must know how to die, but “to know how to kill is the most important.” At one point, the screen goes black as we listen to them recite the sort of soul-deadening chants common to militaries throughout the world.

Tizan, here making his feature debut, takes pains to show that his subjects, aspiring to be fierce warriors in one of the most dangerous regions of Latin America, are also ordinary young men at heart, plagued by girlfriend problems and avidly watching war movies on their phones. The poignant moments in which they reveal their youthful insecurities stand in stark contrast to the physical rigors and harsh military mindset to which they’re being subjected. It’s clear that the filmmaker, who handled the photographic duties himself with striking results, succeeded in his goal of becoming close to these men and making them feel free to expose their innermost feelings.    

Night Has Come definitely provides a visceral, immersive experience, but it’s also marred by many boringly banal stretches, including lengthy segments in which we see the recruits working out in the gym or playfully roughhousing in the waters of a canal. Although the film runs only 95 minutes, it feels significantly longer and would probably have benefited from some judicious pruning. But then again, its punishing duration pales in comparison to the trials faced by its young subjects, who are intent on dedicating themselves to lives marked by intense discipline and extreme danger.

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