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Nafas is a reporter who was born in Afghanistan, but fled with her family to Canada when she was a child. However, her sister wasn't so lucky; she lost her legs to a land mine while young, and when Nafas and her family left the country, her sister was accidentally left behind. Nafas receives a letter from her sister announcing that she's decided to commit suicide during the final eclipse before the dawn of the 21st century; desperate to spare her sister's life, Nafas makes haste to Afghanistan, where she joins a caravan of refugees who, for a variety of reasons, are returning to the war-torn nation. As Nafas searches for her sister, she soon gets a clear and disturbing portrait of the toll the Taliban regime has taken upon its people. Written by
When you see `Kandahar,' it's almost impossible to believe that you're watching a film set in the late 20th Century. Mohsen Makhmalbaf's film takes place in Afghanistan in the latter days of the Taliban regime, when women were not merely viewed as second class citizens, but were denied any form of education or civil rights and even had to go out in public covered from head to toe to prevent men from seeing their faces. The filmmaker takes us to the heart of this alien and frightening world and makes us see, perhaps for the first time on the big screen, just how horrific life was for women in that time and place.
`Kandahar' is less a narrative film than a series of fascinating vignettes that drive home the realities of life in that part of the world. What plot there is involves the efforts of a female Canadian journalist to sneak back into her native country to prevent her desperate sister in Kandahar from committing suicide at the next solar eclipse. But that is really just a string on which to hang the individual pearls that make up the film. What is of primary interest to both the filmmaker and the audience are the various people the journalist encounters and the many experiences she undergoes. Hidden beneath her own burka, she witnesses firsthand the devastating poverty, the utter degradation and de-humanization of women, and the authoritarian oppression that defined life in that country during the Taliban rule. Along the way, she meets an American doctor who is trying his hardest to in some way relieve the misery of these people, but who finds himself waging a losing battle against the primitivism and theocratic oppression that have made life a living hell for the common citizenry of the country. She also encounters a seemingly endless group of people who have become dismembered by all the land mines left over from the Afghani war with the Russians. There is one remarkable scene wherein hordes of desperate, one-legged men hobble on crutches across the desert as Red Cross helicopters rain prosthetic limbs down onto the sands below. It is merely one among many images from the film that seer themselves into the viewer's memory. Another is a scene in which a male doctor has to examine his female patients through a hole cut out of a sheet, not even being allowed to talk to the woman directly about her symptoms but having to get his information through a male (or female child) `interpreter.'
Makhmalbaf keeps the ending of the film deliberately ambiguous which might frustrate some viewers but which actually adds to the verisimilitude of the piece. In the same way, much of the acting in the film borders on the amateurish at times, but again that contributes to the pseudo-documentary aura that the film must have to be truly effective. A clear-cut narrative resolution and slick performances by obviously professional actors would likely rob the film of its much-needed sense of immediacy.
`Kandahar,' by providing a voice to so many voiceless people, is a film that cries out to be seen.
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