Nafas (Pazira) moved to Canada as a child, but her sister stayed in Afghanistan; her letter says she lost both legs to a land mine, and will kill herself at the last eclipse of the 20th century. Nafas takes a desperate journey to Afghanistan to persuade her sister to live. This movie by an Iranian writer and director was well-received at Cannes, 2001, and had little chance of release in the United States until 9/11/01 changed everything. It shines a knowing light on the Taliban's last days.
Nafas can't get into Afghanistan by normal means because her family fled for political reasons, so in Iran, she pays a man who trades and travels between the two countries to take her there as one of his wives. Wearing a burqua that completely covers her, and bouncing in the back of a truck with other women, Nafas begins her high-risk deception as she travels to the land of her birth, recording her journey on tape.
Roads in the beautiful, forbidding desert are mere tracks from one horizon to the next. Roadblocks, close calls, and confusion force the trader to turn back, leaving Nafas with Khak (Teymouri), a 10- or 12-year-old boy. In the terrible wisdom of troubled children, he knows his way around, and accepts $50 to lead Nafas to Kandahar. Trekking through sand dunes, he finds a ring on a skeleton's finger, and tries to sell it to Nafas, but also finds her a doctor (Tantai) when she's sick.
For her medical examination, Nafas must stand on one side of a blanket with the doctor on the other, from where he must talk to her through a hole; the Taliban forbids "intimate contact" between unmarried women and men. On hearing Nafas's American English, the doctor reveals a secret. Khak lingers near for information to sell to the Taliban until the doctor bribes him to leave.
Khak was expelled from his Taliban school, where all students are boys; no girls or women are allowed to study. But that might not be their loss: the boys simply chant the Koran - not studying but simply repeating it - then are drilled on the parts of a rifle. "Weapons are the only modern thing in Afghanistan," the doctor tells Nafas.
A memorable image is of a Red Cross helicopter dropping artificial legs by parachute into a refugee camp where one-legged men on crutches hobble to fetch them. How could a belief system convince people it was right to make so many miserable?
Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri
Afghanistan, Taliban, Kandahar, conditions in Afghanistan
English, primarily. Reviewer's Name:
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