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Kandahar (2001)

The story of a Canadian woman of Afghan descent who returns to her home country in an attempt to save her sister, “Kandahar” is a catalog of misery, oppression and backwardness that ends abruptly and hopelessly.  No happy endings here.  This film was made and released just months before September 11, 2001, and didn’t garner much attention until that tragedy turned the world spotlight on Afghanistan.   The setup puts us, as Westerners, very much in the place of the heroine; through her burqa-veiled eyes we see the country it has become.

But frankly, the entire plot structure is a secondary consideration, a vehicle that allows Iranian director  Mohsen Makhmalbaf to tour Taliban-ruled Afghanisan and let the world see what’s going on there.   You get the sense that Makhmalbaf would like to be making a documentary instead of a drama, but of course he couldn’t gain access to Afghanistan under the Taliban.  So he dramatizes stories he’s under from those who’ve escaped.

Many of the best and most powerful scenes have little to do with the lead character.  We watch as a doctor attempts to examine and diagnose sick women without talking to them or seeing them.  We are set amongst a camp of foreign nurses (I couldn’t tell where they were from, but they are the only women in the entire film not wearing Burqas) as they wrangle with men who have lost limbs to land mines, none of them soldiers, most of them farmers and laborers.  There are far more amputees than prosthetics, and, in a surreal scene when a supply plane drops prosthetics on parachutes, the men on crutches chase after them like children after piñata candy at a birthday party in a different part of the world that may as well be a different universe.


And perhaps most pointedly, we witness a school of elementary-age girls in northern Iran being deported back to Afghanistan; their teacher tells them that they will receive no more education, ever, and must pray that someone in the outside world notices what is happening to them and takes action.  Of course that someone is us, and, a decade later, with the Taliban gone, the war ending and the region hopefully approaching some semblance of stability, I can only hope things are better for the people there than they were before September 11, 2001.

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