A scene from 'Kandahar'
Courtesy Photo
2 stars (In Farsi & English w/ English subtitles)
85 minutes | Rated: Unrated
NY/LA: Friday, December 14, 2001
WIDER: Friday, January 4, 2002

Written & directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Starring Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri


Aside from not feeling the heat of the desert the way you would from the encompassing image in the theater, this film should lose little to the small screen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 05.13.2003

 LINKS for this film
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Following a woman through oppressive Afghanistan, 'Kandahar' offers cultural insights, bad acting

By Rob Blackwelder

The timely and Taliban-topical Iranian import "Kandahar" could have been an absorbing, penetrating and undiluted portrait of frightful oppression in pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan. But it's woefully subverted by pretentious directing, unmistakably amateur performances and an ending so vague it erases any power the picture might have had and replaces it with the question, "What the heck just happened?"

Written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf ("The Silence," "A Moment of Innocence"), the story follows an Afghan-Canadian journalist (Niloufar Pazira) smuggling herself into her native land in an attempt to rescue a suicidal sister who can no longer bear her smothered, browbeaten existence under the nation's extremist regime. It's also based loosely on a similar journey made by the lead actress -- a real Afghan-Canadian journalist who is clearly not an actress by trade.

The film offers strong symbolism and valuable insights into the Taliban's tyrannical culture of fear, in which song and dance are outlawed, men must sport long beard or be beaten, and women are not allowed even to leave their homes without a husband, father or brother as an escort. It's stocked with stark but stunning imagery -- from limbless peasants to almost surreal desert landscapes to Pazira's Westernized face peeking out from under her burqa, the head-to-toe covering women were forced to wear under the Taliban.

In fact, because of the current world climate and the heavy U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, "Kandahar" is worth seeing in spite of its shortcomings, simply because it offers a kind of cultural comprehension that just cannot be gleaned from the fleeting, polished, spoon-fed propaganda news feeds of CNN and network television.

But while its themes are remarkably relevant at this moment in time, the picture is otherwise an inarticulate and laborious effort, beset with clumsy narration, bad sound-syncing (even though it's subtitled), obtuse storytelling and a bloated sense of artistic and didactic self-importance.

It's the entirely unclear final scene, however, that really sends the movie into a tailspin. An ambiguity surrounding Pazira's fate is one thing, deliberate intangibility is another.


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