Hope in “Kandahar”

Kandahar captures what every U.S. radio, television and print journalist has been trying to make come to life for Americans over the past four months.

If you’re like me, you’re a kind of numb to all the media coverage of the plight of the Afghani people by now, and yet, Afghanistan and its people still seem like a far away and remote place.

But Iranian-born Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recently released film “Kandahar” is a beautiful movie that succeeds in piercing a numb U.S. heart long enough to connect with the distinct personalities and dreams of the film’s characters.

Filmed before Sept. 11, “Kandahar” tells the timely story of Nafas (played by Nelofer Pazira), an Afghan-born journalist living in Canada, who tries to return to Kandahar. Her sister, maimed by a landmine, has written a letter saying she plans to kill herself there during the next eclipse just days away.

A moving tale of hope and courage, the film is based on Pazira’s real life attempts to find a childhood friend, who despairs after the Taliban take over and forbid her to work.

In the film, Nafas (which means “to breathe”) dons the stifling burka and travels the beautiful and dangerous desert with various families and guides she persuades, cajoles and insists on for help. Nafas carries a small tape recorder and records small moments of hope and courage in her attempts to offer her sister reasons to live.

“If walls are high the sky is higher still,” Nafas records.

In one scene, bandits accost the family Nafas is traveling with and snatch from every female child her small cloth bag filled with her only belongings. Each child resists and tries to hold on to her bag as long as she can.

In another scene at a Red Cross camp, artificial legs are being parachuted from the sky. A group of Afghani men, with one or two legs missing due to land mines, hop and race on their crutches to try and seize one of the falling legs.

The moment gives Nafas pause. “If someone who has lost their legs doesn’t become a champion runner, it’s their own fault,” she says.

Eventually a group of women are trying to walk to Kandahar to accompany a bride to her wedding. Nafas quietly slips in with these women, until the group is stopped and searched by the authorities.

Underneath one woman’s burka, they find and confiscate an old tattered book. The woman is separated from the rest of the women and her fate is left unseen.

I was left wondering how and why a woman living under such oppressive conditions would choose to risk her life for a book. What did those words mean to her? What hope did they inspire?

I think about how precious life is, and yet paradoxically God doesn’t ask us to protect our lives at all costs. It seems like the divine part of our human spirit yearns to pursue hope and love and life at any cost.

“I give my soul to this journey-so I could give you reasons to live,” Nafas tells her sister on the recorder. In the U.S. media, Afghani citizens and refugees, particularly women, often seem like a defeated people. In “Kandahar” they are funny, persistent and courageous beyond measure.

For more information about the movie, see http://www.kandaharthemovie.com/