When “Kandahar” premiered in May at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, there was little hope that theaters in the United States would have any interest whatsoever in the Iranian film that depicts the horrors of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. However, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film has become a post-Sept. 11 staple.
The film is based on the true story of the lead actress, Nelofer Pazira. In the film, Nelofir plays Nafas, an Afghan refugee living in Canada. She receives a letter from her sister, who is in despair after having been maimed by a land-mine and is living in the oppressive city of Kandahar, where women must be completely covered from head to toe in Burgas and where girls cannot go to school.
Nafas’s sister has promised to kill herself during the last eclipse of the century, and Nafas, with only a few days until the eclipse, is on her way to Afghanistan to stop her sister.
Along the way, she must rely on various guides to help her along the barren and treacherous trails. Although she begins her journey pretending to be the fourth wife of a man she has paid to take her across the Iran-Afghanistan border, she has to enlist the help of a small boy, a black American with a fake beard posing as a doctor and a wedding party. It is soon clear that the film is not actually about Nafas rescuing her sister, but about her journey back to her homeland.
This film is unusual, because the visuals and the actual events surrounding the film (including the actual production, which was as dangerous as anything in the movie) dwarf anything that is said or done by any of the actors. There is not a great deal of depth to any of the characters, and most of the people who help her come and go with little fanfare.
Most of the characters are played by non-professionals who happened to be around during filming (There were actually problems during shooting between members of rival tribes who would not appear or act together.)
The stilted acting and the mundane dialogue would normally ruin the movie, but this film’s visuals make up for some of the shortcomings. The cinema verite, almost documentary style of the film is often compelling, especially considering the events that the film is based on, but one never feels caught up in the action or the feelings of any of the characters. The film lacks the emotional content that one would hope for.
Although the film itself is heavy-handed in its story-telling, it is something that everyone should see if only to get a glimpse into the “Handmaid’s Tale”-esque oppression that women endure.