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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
All cultural values are in some senses relative. We make criticise, say, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for forcing women to wear the burka; but our own society enforces different standards with regard to the male and female exposure of the chest. We might therefore say that the burka is oppressive not so much in itself but rather as part of a system that undermines the freedom of women; but this is to assume that in our sexist, and over-sexualised, society, women are in practice freer. In fact, I believe they are; but at some level it is important to acknowledge the arbitrariness of such positions at the deepest level; that they depend on prejudice (to use that word non-prejudicially), on values rather than reason. To argue that because we know nothing for certain we should therefore do nothing, think nothing is a doctrine of futile despair; but to be aware of the limitations of our own thinking, to know that for certain future generations will surely condemn us are clearly as we condemn others, is vital before we consider the values of societies other than our own, a secular equivalent of humility before God.
This is not to say I would like to see a film defending the appalling Taliban. But even the most tyrannical regime is in some regards the product of the society it tyrannises: we are all both prisoners and guards. To understand that regime (and its true horrors), one needs to understand how it worked with, as well as against, the grain of traditional society; and what is good, as well as what is bad, about that. Unfortunately, this is not what we get with 'Kandahar'.
It's a shame, because this film contains the potential material for exploring the ambiguity of life. Its central character is rude, arrogant and ambitious (a journalist travelling to Afghanistan to try and save her sister, she doesn't hesitate to try to try and make a story out of her ordeal at the same time). A returning exile, she might be considered as both having the right to criticise what is happening to her country and also the eyes of one who has seen enough to know what is wrong. But one could just as easily say that she has neither that in fact she has the rights to neither position. There is thus the potential to portray her with great ambivalence; but 'Kandahar' prefers the values of propaganda. So instead she is our witness, our seer and our reliable narrator; and the film is all the weaker for it.
'Kandahar' contains some great footage of a bleak but beautiful country, but at times its limited budget shows. The dialgoue is strange, the second most important character is (bizarrely) an American, and a number of the scenes sit uneasily between documentary and fiction: Michael Winterbottom did something similar in 'In This World', but that film was more convincing, because the agenda of the director was less clumsily imposed on every scene. 'Kandahar' has neither documentary truth or dramatic ambiguity; and seems to view the world with a very Western slant. Perhaps evil is like Schroedinger's cat: something that can be labelled or shown, but not both at the same time. 'Kandahar' prefers to label; but I prefer more subtlety in my films.
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