Kandahar: fact or fiction ? or both?

Reviewed by Thomas Fritschi

Kandahar ? a film that seems to blur the line between documentary and fiction and was awarded the Ecumenical Jury prize at Cannes Film Festival, ? premiered recently at the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento.

Set in Afghanistan, the film is a true story about a woman?s urge to help a female friend (portrayed as her sister in the film) living in desperation under the Taliban regime in her native country of Afghanistan.

The film is a co-production between one of Iran?s most influential filmmakers, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Canadian journalist/documentary filmmaker Nelofer Pazira. Pazira plays the lead role in Kandahar. She was an Afghan refugee as well as many of the other non-actors involved in the film who for the most part are present-day refugees living on the Afghan-Iranian border.

In an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival, Pazira said,”We were in the desert. There was no water. No electricity. We traveled along the border, shooting and improvising as we went. We came to a village of 5,000 people, built by the Afghanis on the Iranian side of the border. No one there knew what the word film meant. They had no clue what film was. They had never seen a moving image in their entire lives.”

In reality, Pazira never made it past the Iranian-Afghan border, and was forced to return back to Canada, empty-handed. She was ready to give up, according to a recent interview with the New York Times. Instead, she asked a favor from Makhmalbaf, who persuaded her to tell her story on film and recreate the injustice and atrocities of Afghanistan’s rulers through the eyes of people she meets on her journey.

What is most interesting about the film is that you are not sure if this is fact or fiction. Are the characters in this film just acting or are they really portraying their lives in this constant state of peril? It sure seems that they are.

A subtle and powerful performance comes from Hassan Tantai, a black American Muslim who Pazira meets by chance in a small village in the Afghanistan desert after she becomes ill from drinking well water.

Tantai is a disillusioned convert to the Mujahadeen cause who traveled from the United States in 1979 to fight with the Afghans against Russian invaders. At first glance, audiences may recognize him as similar to an Arabic-speaking Samuel L. Jackson, but as the film progresses and he starts speaking English we are exposed to an amazingly sensitive and inspiring individual who has seen the many layers of Afghanistan culture.

The film has some extremely touching scenes. One involves children in a refugee camp who are taught not to pick up dolls lying on the ground because they may blow up, leaving them maimed or killed.

The most unforgettable scene in the film is when a series of prosthetic limbs are air dropped to a medical camp of landmine victims. As legless men race for the descending legs, the extremely surreal is contradicted with an overwhelming reality.