Having received a letter from her sister announcing her impending suicide on the day of the eclipse, Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) leaves the comforts of Canada in a desperate attempt to find and save her sister in Kandahar. The land she left so many years ago hasn't changed much for the better - it is incredibly difficult to travel safely especially for a single woman. With the clock ticking she will have to find a way to travel across a dangerous land without getting caught. Who exactly can she trust to help her on her journey?
Political films have this annoying tendency to either be brilliant (take a pick from Z, Raining Stones, La Haine, Cathy come home) or are too busy scoring points that they forget about the script (Carla's Song, Ma 6-T va crack-er). Even the weakest political film tends to retain the honour of having at least tried to engage issues that are so often ignored by the mainstream but makes them incredibly difficult to rate - should the director get points for effort rather than on the finished project? Does the political content of a film make one more likely to overlook areas in which it is severly lacking?
Therefore we must approach Kandahar with an open but critical mind. There are no doubts that the film is flawed on many levels - the acting although not too bad is not the most inspired, the narration tends to wander as much as the character - but the viewer can't help but feel the director's anger and bitterness at the current situation. Aside from the problems evoked above, Kandahar is exceptional in many ways - despite having been filmed on a shoestring, the film is visually quite beautiful in part thanks to some excellent editing and camerawork; Makhmalbaf also demonstrates a great knack at getting his point across in very few images and making scenes that sear themselves into the viewer's mind.
Although the film at times resembles little more than a collage of scenes, there's little doubt that each one of the scenes in the collage are mini-masterpieces: how can one forget the image of a crowd of land-mine victims chasing after prosthetic limbs on their crutches? As a whole, Kandahar does seem to be a slightly fragile ensemble but the quality contained within more than compensates for its flaws.
Bonus film:Afghan Alphabet
Due to the terrorist attacks in the US, Kandahar, which would have usually been joyfully ignored worldwide, shot to prominence with even Bush having allegedly watched Kandahar (and then subsequently decided that the best option was to bomb the country into oblivion). Maybe as a matter to set the record straight, Makhmalbaf set off with a DV camera to film the education of the Afghani refugees in Iran. The documentary is similar in style to Kandahar, skipping around with no rhyme or reason at times but given that it's a documentary this doesn't really affect the viewers understanding. It remains a frightful wake-up call for the chronic lack of educational facilities available to Afghanis be it in the refugee camps of Iran or in Afghanistan itself.
Makhmalbaf evidently has little trust in the Western world's attempts to right the wrongs in Afghanistan - then would you put much trust in countries who were hardly concerned about Afghanistan having dreadful human rights record and virtually banning women's education? Asking a boy if he likes America he answers no. The Taliban? Neither. So who does he like? School... Afghan Alphabet is a potent documentary on the ongoing crisis and a crucial update on the situation since the war. Clocking in at 45 minutes, this demonstrates Makhmalbaf at his best when he is left to roam with his camera and not tied down by the likes of plotting and script.
This is the first time in a long time that we've been given a non-anamorphic transfer for a film that should have got one. The aspect ratio is supposed to be 1.85:1 according to imdb but from the screen grabs I made the DVD is framed at 1.70 - however the scenes don't look cropped so I'm a little unsure about what exactly is the correct aspect ratio. However, not having an anamorphic transfer seems like a severe oversight on their part - the image is slightly cropped when you zoom in on it on a widescreen set but the subtitles are however transferred along with the image and are always within view. Bar these oversights, the transfer itself is quite good with a minimal amount of grain and with the colours coming out very well - there's some minor problems with dirt and specks but really nothing too distracting. I didn't notice too much artifacting but grain is at times quite apparent - but that is at least in part due to the quality of the original film stock.
Afghan Alphabet on the other hand is transferred in fullscreen mode and framed in that ratio; given that it was filmed on DV, one can assume that this is correct. The transfer is pretty good and really only reveals the limitations of DV rather than anything else. The subtitles are also transferred along with the picture (and therefore cannot be turned off).
The sound is a little disapointing but that's probably due to the original working conditions (I very much doubt there was much overdubbing at all). There's also a few problems with lip-synch in the opening scenes but that seems to disappear with time. Although we do get a stereo soundtrack I noticed hardly any use of stereo effects in the film - but this is hardly a film that requires it. A mono mix would have done the job just as well.
Following in the same style as previous ICA projects releases, we get a stylish moving menu made up of snippets from the film. Nothing amazing but nice on the eye.
Apart from Afghan Alphabets, we get the trailer for Kandahar but bizarrely we get the French trailer (without French subs though). Again we get a non-anamorphic transfer. There's also the trailers to Yi-Yi and The Kingdom included.
Although questions have to be asked about the judiciousness of the choice to not do an anamorphic transfer, the added extra of Afghan Alphabet makes this release a worthwhile purchasing. Although The Circle is a much more fully rounded film, Kandahar does achieve to try to put the condition of Afghanistan on the map. Now let's all hope that Bush isn't watching any Iraqi films at the minute...