Most Spanish films that fetch up on these shores seem to be either psycho-sexual thrillers or psychological horrors, so this true story about the rescue of an AS332 Superpuma helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan in August 2012 is something of a novelty. It’s no Black Hawk Down, but director Adolfo Martínez gets assistance from the national military in the loan of six helicopters (including the actual Superpuma involved in the accident), and while he’s working to a limited budget, he makes the absolute most of what he’s got.
Army doctor Capitán Varela (Gil) loses the life of a young patient while under fire from local insurgents – the kind of loss that’s led to her seeking a new job back in a Spanish hospital – after which she and her MEDEVAC pilot’s next mission – Capitán Torres (Álamo) is in fact also her brother-in-law – is to rescue a pair of American soldiers, injured during an ambush and under the protection of a small Spanish unit led by Lieutenant Conte (Mérida). Conte’s the son of a prominent and popular ex-soldier beneath whose shadow he finds himself trapped, and makes an error of judgement choosing a landing ground; Torres’ helicopter pitches onto its side in the dust, stranding soldiers and medics alike.
Except they’re not quite stranded. Base commander Ledesma (Garrido) has a difficult decision to make; evacuate the forces at once, blowing up the helicopter so it doesn’t fall into enemy hands – or attempt to rescue the Superpuma too, necessitating everyone staying put overnight until a Chinook large enough to lift it to safety can be found. Factoring in the cost of replacing the aircraft – something that wouldn’t happen, given the Spanish forces’ limited budgets – against the benefits of having a medical rescue vehicle in the country, Ledesma, with the backing of his officers, opts for the latter – and a long night of waiting for the insurgents to return ensues. You know what happens next.
Martínez, in his feature debut after storyboarding a number of massive Hollywood productions, directs with a matter-of-fact style belying some of the script’s character clichés, and makes everything feel much more natural and earned, even if perhaps a little less engaging. And there’s maybe less combat on screen than you might expect, but the rescue itself is filmed with a keen eye for an exciting visual, and there’s an economy and evocation of place (this was actually shot in Andalucía, very effectively) that involves you in events and helps you care who survives.
Rescue Under Fire isn’t going to bother the big studio war films, but for a smaller scale – and crucially, true – story, it’s easily well enough told to make it worth passing ninety minutes of your time with.
RESCUE UNDER FIRE (ZONA HOSTIL) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ADOLFO MARTÍNEZ PÉREZ / SCREENPLAY: LUIS ARRANZ, ANDRÉS M. KOPPEL / STARRING: ARIADNA GIL, RAÚL MÉRIDA, ROBERTO ÁLAMO, ANTONIO GARRIDO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW