Political Film Society - Kandahar

PFS Film Review
Kandahar (Safar e Ghandehar)


KandaharKandahar (Safar e Ghandehar) is an Iranian film, with a lot of spoken English, which proceeds as if a documentary because the conditions portrayed are real. Nafas (played by Nelofer Pazira), an Afghani refugee who fled to Canada when the Taliban came to power, receives word in 1999 that her sister will commit suicide at the last solar eclipse of the millennium due to unbearable conditions under the Taliban, both as a woman and as a casualty of a landmine. (The story is based on the plight of the lead actress in the film.) Nafas tries to enter Afghanistan in order to prevent her sister from killing herself, but she is turned back at the Pakistani and Tajikistani borders, so she tries and succeeds in crossing from Iran. The film follows a familiar on-the-road scenario, with revelations about the now-defunct Taliban regime as the trip progresses. (The aim of the film, to expose the barbarity of the regime, was instead accomplished by the events of 9-11.) Shortly after the film begins, she pays an Afghan man $100 to cross the border with his family; she is to be smuggled under a burqa as his fourth wife. We learn that his wives come from more than one ethnic group, despite ethnic enmity otherwise portrayed in the film, but we can only surmise that he is returning to his homeland because he has been expelled by the Iranian government because he worked in the country illegally, as the film Baran (2001) suggests. Before crossing the border in a three-wheel vehicle, UN officials caution the family about landmines (Taliban dolls contain bombs to maim girls who might seek to play with them), and they give each member of the family $1 and a UN flag. The man strongly insists that Nafas wear the burqa so that his reputation will not be damaged. However, robbers take all possessions from the family at knifepoint, including the vehicle, so they turn back to Iran, as they must otherwise make the rest of the trip on foot, penniless. Nafas then engages Khak (played by Sadou Teymouri); for $25 the ten-year-old is to be her guide to Kandahar. Khak is available because he has been kicked out of a Taliban school for lack of educational progress. Khak is the only source of financial support for his mother, who can neither work nor attend school according to the Taliban dictates; her husband is dead, and her other children are absent or nonexistent. As they proceed on foot, Khak finds a ring on a skeleton and tries to sell the object to Nafas. Soon, Khak gets water from a well, but she becomes sick after drinking the impure water. She then goes to the dwelling of a healer, Tabib Sahid (played by Hassan Tantaï, an African American rumored to be the prime suspect in a 1980 murder of an Iranian dissident in Bethesda), who went to Afghanistan "in search of God" and now pretends to be a doctor, since most Afghanis die from such simple maladies as dehydration, diarrhea, and malnutrition, reminiscent of the major causes of death under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Since he cannot grow a beard, as required by the Taliban, he glues hair onto his face. After examining her through a hole in a cloth hung from the ceiling of his tent, Sahid urges Nafas to drop Khak, for another fee, as he is doubtless trying only to extract money from her and does not really know the way to Kandahar. She agrees, but the boy tries to sell her the ring; when she refuses, he gives the object to her anyway. Nafas then approaches a Red Cross encampment, pleading for a vehicle to take her to Kandahar. The mission of the agency is to provide leg prosthetics to those who lose limbs due to the landmines, and we see several cases of Afghan men and women who have stumps for legs but have waited for up to a year for their prosthetics to be parachuted to the camp. Finally, Sahid drives her to the outskirts of Kandahar, where Nafas tries to join a wedding procession; but soon all the women are robbed and taken prisoner, so she never gets a chance to see her sister. The grim picture of life under the Taliban, which paints an agenda for post-Taliban aid, earns for Kandahar, directed and written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the first nomination for the year 2002 -- as best film exposé. MH

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