Afghanistan's veiled truth - "Kandahar" Review

By Robin Eisgrau

"Kandahar" - a name that's suddenly a household word in the U.S. - is a drama that looks unblinkingly at hardship among women, mine victims and others in recent-vintage Afghanistan.

This film is an unblinking glimpse into the hardships of life in Afghanistan, and the difficult odyssey of one woman in particular. Inspired by a true story, "Kandahar" tells the story of Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) an Afghani woman who has been living in Canada and working as a journalist when she receives a disturbing letter from her sister, who has remained in Afghanistan.

Her sister, who has been maimed by a land mine, writes of the oppressive treatment of women and says that she will commit suicide when the next eclipse happens. With only three days until the eclipse, Nafas attempts to travel to Kandahar, a difficult undertaking in a country where women are forbidden to travel alone and are forced to wear the head-to-toe burka.

Nafas first travels with an Afghani family, posing as one of the several wives, until bandits leave her abandoned. Then she hires a boy expelled from a Koran school to be her guide, until she becomes sick after drinking tainted water and then meets a black American man working in a small village as a doctor. They travel on and Nafas' journey comes to an end on a somber note.

Makhmalbaf's film extracts a poetic lyricism from the meagerness of the setting. There are many moments of compositional grace, such as when Nafas lifts her burka. and answers an interrogator's questions, with light from the mesh creating a shadow pattern across her face, and when dozens of women in burkas of various colors move forward in a bridal procession across the desert. There's even surrealism when prosthetic legs for land mine victims at a red cross camp parachute to the ground.

One truly feels for Nafas as she tries to reach her sister and there's also a strong poignancy in the scene depicting the closing of a school for girls, where the last lesson is in avoiding land mines.

Filmed under arduous conditions in a village on the Iran-Afghanistan border, "Kandahar" went on to win the Ecumenical Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. For a look at the country at the center of the news that provides far more information than a CNN soundbite, "Kandahar" should be seen.

Originally Published December 15, 2001

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