Prior to Sept. 11, the Iranian film "Kandahar" was hardly known outside a few film festival circles. The unfortunate familiarity we now have with the Afghanistan city of the title has made it a more distributable film, and that is good: It's a good movie, and worth seeing.It is about a woman named Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) who moved to Canada as a young girl but who now is returning to Kandahar to save her sister from suicide. The sister lost her legs to a land mine -- the country is riddled with them now, souvenirs of the lengthy war with the Soviet Union -- and lives under the oppressive Taliban. There is no hope for women anyway, and even less for a women with no legs. She wants to die. Nafas wants to stop her.
Nafas' journey is the focus of the story. She disguises herself in the traditional garb of the local women, hires a young boy to lead her through the desert, and ultimately teams up with an English-speaking doctor (Hassan Tantai) for part of the trip. In the process, she comes to deal with the society she was born into, the society she thought she had escaped from forever.
Pazira's performance as Nafas is natural and penetrating. Writer/director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's style is realistic, and the documentary-style acting complements it. Tantai is less than adequate as the doctor, but at least his bland delivery goes along with the bleakness of the situation.Another recent Iranian film, "The Circle," made some of the same points about the plight of Muslim women as "Kandahar." Both are of increased interest now that the world's attention has focused even more tightly on the Middle-East, but their messages are timeless.