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By Rich Cline | December 14, 2001

This frighteningly timely film is another true eye-opener from Iran’s Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Beautifully shot using a mixture of documentary and fiction, it’s about a young Afghan woman named Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) who works in Canada as a journalist. Then she gets a letter from her sister in Kandahar, saying life is so bad there that she’ll commit suicide when the eclipse comes. So Nafas begins an epic journey halfway around the world, crossing the border from Iran as part of an Afghan man’s harem, then encountering a series of amazing people, including an American doctor/ex-militia man, a team of Red Cross workers handing out artificial legs to landmine victims, a mournful wedding procession and numerous petty thieves and scoundrels.
The plot is based on a true story, and Makhmalbaf did exhaustive research to get everything right, including sneaking into Afghanistan himself. The result is stunning–both as a narrative film and as a document of the place and time. The story is colourful and lively, with subtle humour and emotional connections between Nafas and the people she meets. And as she progresses, she encounters a series of situations that paint a remarkable picture of a society that’s one of the world’s most ancient civilizations … and now one of its most primitive. The head-to-toe burka that women must wear is shown almost like a prison — Nafas keeps peeking out, jeopardising her safety, but she can’t bear the isolation and invisibility! And her race against time adds a level of suspense as she’s waylaid along the way. This adds a raw emotional core–one woman trying against all odds to rescue her sister. But it’s only one small aspect of the power of this little film.

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