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WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Shortly after hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers and changed America irrevocably, we all turned our attention to a small country on the other side of the globe called Afghanistan. We regarded its people in a state of fury and bewilderment, wondering what the hell we could possibly have done to provoke an attack of such magnitude and heartlessness. We'll perhaps never know—or more accurately, never fully understand—the reasons behind the act, but we can at least try to learn more about Afghanistan's culture so that we can inch toward an understanding.
A good place to start is Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar. This is a quiet little movie that burst to prominence in late 2001 for obvious reasons: Kandahar depicts the plight of women suffering beneath the cruel fist of the Taliban regime. The story is loosely based on the true story of Nelofer Pazira, a female Canadian journalist who was born in Afghanistan. Years after fleeing Kabul in the midst of Russian occupation, Pazira received a letter from a childhood friend that would change her life and force her on the road back to Afghanistan.
You can feel the truth, desperation, and heartbreak of Pazira's story in the fictionalized account that the film presents—mostly because Pazira herself portrays the protagonist. She is a Canadian journalist named Nafas trying desperately to reach the city of Kandahar to save—in this case—her sister, who in a letter has promised to commit suicide on the day of the next solar eclipse, which is due to occur in only a few days. Kandahar follows Nafas's miserable and frightening journey as she treks across the desert against seemingly insurmountable odds.
But Kandahar is about more than its story. It's about the sights and sounds that we witness through the eyes of Nafas as she undertakes her trek. It's about the hundreds of young boys screaming out the music of the Koran as they recite the virtues of the submachine gun. It's about the little girls learning how to avoid stepping on land mines. It's about the countless men who have lost limbs to the mines and now scrabble around the desert in desperate search of prosthetic legs. Mostly, it's about the colorful swarms of burkas (Taliban-mandated veils, also referred to as a woman's "prison") dotting the endless sand, concealing Afghanistan's women from the eye of the world.
Beyond the power of such images and sounds, Kandahar is a slight film with modest ambitions. Its nonprofessional acting is arch, its plot strung together seemingly to enforce the shocking and sometimes beautiful imagery. Its ending is so abrupt that you'll think you're missing a reel. However, there's no denying the power of those images. Still, considering its timing, you'll wonder what kind of film Kandahar would have been had it been made after September 11.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
New Yorker Video presents Kandahar in a pleasing anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Detail reaches into backgrounds, and colors are splendid, accurately reproducing the dramatic hues of the burkas and the dark fleshtones.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc presents the original English/Farsi Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and it is a fine effort, bringing across dialog faithfully. You don't get any audio fireworks, but that's exactly the intent
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The first couple of supplements available on the Special Features menu are Biography pages for Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Nelofer Pazira.
Then we get to the real meat of the extras with an Audio Commentary track by Nelofer Pazira, who has a great deal to share about her experiences making the film, as well as about her background. She spends a lot of time communicating the difficulty of filming in Iran and Afghanistan with local residents, some of whom didn't even know what a movie was, as opposed to professional actors and filmmakers. She also talks at length about the politics and culture of Afghanistan, so this can be a dry listen at times, but considering the country's sudden intimate and bloody connection with our own, you'll be helplessly fascinated.
Next is a 19-minute featurette called Lifting the Veil, a television production originating from Canada that is essentially a biographical piece about Nelofer Pazira. This is essential viewing for a fuller appreciation of Kandahar. I would even recommend watching Lifting the Veil before you watch the feature.
Finally, you get the International Trailer for Kandahar.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Without getting too political, I would say that the vast majority of Americans would do well to at least try to gain some measure of understanding about the country of Afghanistan. Kandahar is a film that will startle you with its imagery and its message. Don't go in expecting a film of great dramatic weight and filmmaking skill. But Kandahar nevertheless holds power. Fine audio and video, along with two genuinely informative and interesting supplements, add up to a no-brainer renter, if not a keeper.