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Film review: Kandahar

Published: Friday, March 29 2002 8:18 a.m. MST

At times, "Kandahar" feels more like a lesson in politics and sociology than it does a coherent narrative feature film.

Not that the subject matter — namely, the horrifying treatment of women in Afghanistan, as well as the living conditions in remote regions of that country — doesn't deserve to be expounded upon. In fact, considering the events of the past six months, this picture couldn't have been better timed.

But those who expect traditional storytelling may have a hard time coming to grips with this unusual dramatic hybrid, which utilizes some filmmaking techniques more suited to documentary works, and which is based on some real-life events.

Still, there's no denying the film has its share of fascinating moments — or that, on whole, it has a lasting power, especially its bleak, sucker-punch ending. (Together with the low-key drama "Djomeh," which also deals with Afghani characters, this movie is ideal for those looking to know more about the troubled country.)

"Kandahar" refers to a Taliban-held city that is the destination of Nafas (Nelofer Pazira), a Canadian journalist who is returning to Afghanistan in search of her despondent sister.

It's a perilous journey, especially for a woman, and she must be covered by a burka — the traditional, head-to-toe covering — at all times. But it's one that Nafas feels she must make, especially after she receives a letter from her sister, in which she threatens to commit suicide during the next solar eclipse (which occurs in three days).

She'll require help to get to Kandahar in time, however, and finds aid, kindness and guidance from some of the locals, including a sympathetic doctor (Hassan Tantai) who is not what he appears to be and a young boy (Sadou Teymouri) who has disgraced his family.

It's a bit unfortunate that writer/director Mohsen Makhmalbaf continues to use his trademark "neo-realist" approach here. Though the presence of real-life Afghanis does bring a sense of authenticity, not all of their performances are sound.

Then there's the clunky voiceover narration, which Pazira reads in a surprisingly passionless, stilted manner. (Given that the story here is taken from her fruitless, real-life search for a friend — not a sister — who was living in Afghanistan, you'd think she would show more emotion.)

"Kandahar" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for a scene of animal violence (a cock fight), as well as scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based). Running time: 85 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com