Behind the Mask
Review by Ross Anthony

Stark, harsh, real, beautifully filmed despite barren sand-filled landscapes. The first shot and last shot as lush as any big film cinematography -- an afghan woman lifting her burqa, the light breaking through the sewn holes dotting her beautiful blue eyes, while the edges of the garb reach out in all directions filling the screen like butterfly wings.

Easily mistaken as a documentary, "Kandahar" follows Nafas' perilous journey back to her homeland (Afghanistan) in an effort to save her sister (still residing there) from committing suicide due to the oppressive Taliban regime. Nafas is played by Nelofer Pazira, an Afghan-born journalist living in Canada, who fled her country as a teenager. Nelofer, concerned that a friend might end her life, decided to go to Afghanistan. Unable to enter the country, she sought out Mohsen Makhmalbaf who couldn't help at the time, but later the two collaborated on this film.

Says Nelofer about donning the burqa, "I realized what a psychologically damaging thing it is, because it makes you feel incompetent. You lose your self-confidence. And you don't have to think about your identity anymore."

Shot just outside Afghanistan in refugee camps, "Kandahar" utilizes local talent. Here's a clip from the production notes: "No professional actors were used and scenes were constantly improvised. In fact, the director had to educate the locally hired cast on the fundamental aspects of the film arts. The locals had never even seen a movie or a television show so Makhmalbaf set up a screening room."

Mostly in English, but with a fair amount of subtitling, the film suffers through some patches of rough audio inserts, and some confusing moments; however, whether deliberate or otherwise these faults contribute to the overall disconcerting mood. Additionally, most of the cinematography and field acting/improvising (especially Hassan Tantai as the ex-pat doc) is so strong and heartfelt, these imperfections are easily overlooked. Eye-opening, compelling and extremely timely.

More info at

  • Kandahar. Copyright © 2001.
  • Starring (Nafas) Nelofer Pazira, (Tabib Sahid), Hassan Tantaï, (Khak) Sadou Teymouri.
  • Written and Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
  • Director of Photography Ebraham Ghafouri.
  • Produced by Makhmalbaf Film House (Iran)/Bac Films (France).


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:06:14 PDT