Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Starring: Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantai
A woman (Pazira), Nafas, travels from Iran to Afghanistan in order to rescue her sister. Her sister has written to tell her that she plans to commit suicide at the final eclipse of the century, so Nafas must hurry to Kandahar. Along the way she is escorted by local families and children, landmine victims, expatriates, and more.
Kandahar is, if nothing else, a peek behind the deeply veiled wall of an Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. As Westerners, this is not a world we are exposed to often, not even on Dateline. This is a story of that world told through an inhabitant - of sorts. Nafas and her family were raised in Afghanistan but fled to Canada, accidentally leaving behind the suicidal sister who drives the plot. Nafas is a journalist and certainly sides more with Western values and viewpoints, but has respect enough for the staunchly conservative traditions of the area to obey them without fuss.
The world of Kandahar is an interesting and unique place. This is not a war film, but rather, an “effect of war” film. We see how the constant strife and the dictatorial government have affected the day-to-day lives of the Afghan people. People are scared, territorial, and stand-offish. Nafas has real trouble finding anyone willing to take her from Iran into Afghanistan, and once she does, people keep passing her off, not wanting to take her all the way to Kandahar. Those who do escort Nafas are hardly doing it out of the goodness of their hearts; instead, they are predatorial, and seek to protect their own. Even a young boy, enterprising to the last, refuses to escort Nafas for less than fifty dollars, and then tries to get her to buy a ring he pried off the finger of a corpse. That kind of scavenging mentality is seared across the landscape of the film.
One of the most memorable impressions of the film is the plight of the landmine victim. Landmines have permeated the landscape of the Middle East. In an early scene, young girls are being taught at their schools not to touch plastic dollies they find on the ground, as they are undoubtedly an IED. Nafas’ sister was hurt by such an IED. At a Red Cross station, the doctors are inundated with landmine victims begging new prosthetic limbs (in a memorable scene, these victims chase wildly after legs that have been air-dropped in to them). In a rather galling scene, one man, there on behalf of his wife, refuses to accept the prosthetic legs that have been provided for his wife, and keeps harping on about how he wants a different pair. Everyone around him is desperate for any prosthetic limbs, and he’s being picky.
What’s truly frightening about Kandahar is that it was filmed prior to the United States’ engagement in Afghanistan. All the hardships faced in this film must be nothing to what Afghanistan is like now. The fear, the threat of violence, the thievery, the landmines – all that we see in this film, I imagine, pales in comparison to current conditions. All of these things make Kandahar interesting from a cultural standpoint, but for me, it fails in terms of narrative. It’s just not a terribly interesting film. Although brief, it felt far longer than its 85 minutes, and the ending, which I will not give away, left a great deal to be desired. A wise music friend of mine said that, when performing a piece of music, you must begin well and end well. When you begin a piece well, it grabs the audiences’ attention, and when you end it well, that is what the audience remembers. Muck up the ending, and you can undo an otherwise stellar performance. Sadly, that’s the case for Kandahar.
Overall, I find it to be a moderately amusing cultural study of Afghanistan blighted by a rather incomprehensible finale.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10