Sometimes art and real life merge in the remarkable ways and such is the case with Kandahar. When this Iranian film was being made in late 2000 few people in the United States or elsewhere in the Western world knew much about Afghanistan. And that was the primary reason why actress Nelofer Pazira and director Mohsen Makhmalbaf made the film. But by the time it was release in the fall of last year Afghanistan was in all the headlines. Subsequently, their was a good amount of interest in the film about the same time that the Taliban were being overthrown.
The film is about a woman journalist named Nafas who takes a risky journey across Taliban ruled Afghanistan to visit her sister whom she fears is going to commit suicide during the last eclipse of the 20th century.
Like many of Makhmalbaf's other films this one relies on poetic realism and allegorical allusions to tell a factual story. A couple examples of this include the eclipse, which can be interpreted as what the woman of Afghanistan deal with, and the journey that Nafas takes, which can be interpreted as the trials that women have to go through just to travel a few miles under Taliban rule.
But Makhmalbaf is not above using grim humor too: there is a outrageously unique shot of a group of one legged men running after artificial limbs that have been dropped via parachutes from an airplane.
Nafas meets a family who take her a few miles, then she meets up with a boy – who has recently been thrown out of a Mullah school – who takes her a little further until she gets sick. Halfway across Afghanistan she meets a doctor (Hassan Tantai, who was recently discovered to be David Belfield, the man who in real life assassinated a member of the shah's secret police in Washington, D.C in the 1980's) who takes her a little further and then she is escorted by a procession of men and woman clad in full length burkas going to a wedding.
Kandahar is not without some shortcomings. For instance, many of the actors are simply playing themselves and don't have the best acting skills. Also the film doesn't take a dramatic arc that a Western viewer would expect: if you're waiting for a satisfactory ending then this is the wrong film to be watching.
But perhaps this is proper because the film gives us an inside view of a troubled country whose issues cannot be easily resolved. It should be noted that just because the Taliban were overthrown doesn't mean that humanitarian issues have ended. There is still a drought, there is still hunger and in many parts there is still strict Muslim rule. But there is a ray of hope in the fact that due to the recent activity in Afghanistan and due to the film's reception worldwide people now know the plight of the Afghan people.
The film presented in 1.85:1 and looks excellent. Most of the scenes are shot outdoors and there is a vibrant clash between the earth tones of the desert and the colorful costumes worn by the women. The picture is sharp and clean giving us an interesting dichotomy of the stunning desert landscape amid the poverty of the country. There is very little compression artifact or detectable edge enhancement.
The audio is presented in a 2.0 Dolby Surround in both English and Farsi. The sound is good although there are times it seems that the dialogue and narration were doctored in a studio. The music interludes are good and add a mysterious and exotic ambiance to the film.
There is a very educational commentary track by Nelofer Pazira. Interestingly, Nalofer rarely comments upon a particular scene being shown instead she talks about the facets of the film and explains many things about Afghanistan, her life and her undertakings with regard to helping the country and its people. There is a 19 minute featurette made by a Canadian television station titled Lifting the Veil about Ms. Pazira that is very informative about her life and the trials that her family dealt with in their escape from Afghanistan. There is also a stills gallery, an International trailer and bios of the cast and crew. The inside cover jacket includes an interview with Mohsen Makhmalbaf and an essay by Nelofer Pazira.
Kandahar is a very good film about an impossible journey across Afghanistan that a woman takes to see her sister. The film is more poetic than it is dramatic but is certainly effective. It's one of a handful of films made in the past ten years that can be called important. And the DVD by Seville is of high quality.