Not long ago, most western moviegoers would have been hard pressed to find the city of Kandahar on a map. By the time of this film's release, much of the western world knew not only exactly where Kandahar is, but what it represents: The spiritual capital of the Taliban, the radical Islamic organization that, by the end of the 1990s, had subjugated much of Afghanistan. Under the Taliban's severe interpretation of Islamic law, life for Afghan women became not only difficult but downright dangerous. Subject to countless restrictions that prevented them from attending school, receiving proper medical care or even leaving their homes alone, many women faced the threat of violence for the slightest infractions. All were forced to wear the suffocating head-to-toe covering known as the burka. Nelofer Pazira had the good fortune to spend the 1990s in Canada, but attempted to return to her homeland when the letters she received from a childhood friend became desperate. Pazira contacted Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who could offer little real help. But Makhmalbaf was haunted by the plight of Pazira and her friend, and he soon approached Pazira with an idea for a film. The result is this short, powerful picture, which mixes fact with fiction and uses a cast of non-professionals, who are basically portraying themselves. Pazira herself stars as Nafas, an Afghan-born, Canadian-based journalist who receives a troubling letter from her sister in Kandahar. Under Taliban rule, conditions there have gotten so bad that she plans to kill herself during the next solar eclipse. The letter, however, took nearly two months to reach Nafas, and she now has only two days to reach Kandahar before the sun passes behind the moon. Stranded at the Iran-Afghan border without a visa, she dons a burka to impersonate the wife of a traveling Afghan man, then embarks on a treacherous journey across a desert country filled with thieves, land mines and Taliban supporters. Makhmalbaf was working under extremely difficult circumstances, and it sometimes shows, but the film is still an important achievement. Makhmalbaf's mastery of color is used to great effect a peek under the burka reveals rattling multi-colored bracelets and brilliantly painted nails and the film is filled with startling images, the most memorable of which shows the air-dropping of prosthetic legs to the hordes of Afghan men who've lost their limbs to land mines. The film ends abruptly, on a surprisingly bleak note that offers little hope for the future, but Nafas's wish for women like her sister "One day the world will see your troubles and come to your aid" is a prayer that has perhaps already been answered. (In English and Farsi, with English subtitles.)
Note: After Kandahar opened in the U.S., it was reported that 51-year-old American expatriate actor Hassan Tantai, who portrays a doctor in the film, was actually David Belfield, who fled to Iran in 1980 after allegedly killing former Iranian diplomat Ali Akbar Tabatabai, an outspoken critic of the Ayatollah Khomeini, outside Tabatabai's Bethesda, MD, home.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: Not long ago, most western moviegoers would have been hard pressed to find the city of Kandahar on a map. By the time of this film's release, much of the western world knew not only exactly where Kandahar is, but what it represents: The spiritual capital o… (more)