KANDAHAR (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2001)

To convey its insider/outsider’s view, Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Safar e Ghandehar starts with a tortuous contrivance: Nafas, an Afghan-born Canadian journalist, returns to war-torn Afghanistan in order to find her sister, whose letter states her intention to commit suicide before the 21st century begins. This sister has lost both legs to a landmine. We see—by way of handheld camera—what Nafas sees: the misery wrought by Taliban rule.
     One of the first instructions Nafas is given is to watch out for landmines. A man counsels an immense gathering of young girls to stay hopeful: “When walls are high, the sky is higher still.” Ironically, it is the sky that limits Nafas’s hope, because her sister has written that the final solar eclipse of the twentieth century will signal her death. Hope is also limited by what we see on the ground—for instance, a school session of furious Islamic prayer in which the participants, young boys, pose with knives and semi-automatic weapons. We alternately see the Quran and weapons in their small hands.
     Nafas had planned on smuggling herself in from Iran, masquerading (in a burqa) as an itinerant merchant’s wife; but when the man turns back with his family, Nafas must find other guides, including a boy who offers to sell her a ring off a skeleton, causing her to flee in terror across the dunes.
     It is a region of landmines—and of legions who have lost their legs. In one extraordinary passage, artificial limbs are dropped from airplanes as the legless hobble on crutches toward this bounty from the sky. Makhmalbaf’s application of slow motion underscores both agony and anticipation. The symbolical store of the mines and lost limbs—the lingering effects of war—accumulates from human suffering in the present.
     Abstraction isn’t Makhmalbaf’s motive.

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