Slavery lends itself to violent dramatization. But how do you depict a state of symbolic nonexistence—that is, life beneath the veil in Afghanistan? The loathing of women that has been the Taliban’s pathological cornerstone finds ironically tranquil expression in Kandahar, a cross-cultural odyssey shot in 2000 by the celebrated Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Filming with a cast of non-professionals, Makhmalbaf cobbles together the tale of an Afghan émigré living in Canada who has just three days to save the life of her native Afghan sister, who has vowed to commit suicide during the last eclipse of the 20th century. Donning a dark brown burka, the émigré, played by journalist Nelofer Pazira (in a role inspired by her own story), travels the countryside, taking on fleeting comrades and false identities as she receives an oblique tour of the Taliban’s fascist-thug Stone Age. There are moments of quiet power (we glimpse a future Taliban bully in a boy hawking a souvenir), as well as a very raw sequence featuring actual land mine victims. But Kandahar, with its lyrical vision of oppression, looks, if anything, milder now than it might have before the war. B-