Kandahar must be the first fictions film about Afghanistan for a very long time. How did the project for this film come to life?
Mohsen MAKHMALBAF: Some documentaries have been made on the Pakistan – Afghanistan border and also in the north of the country ruled by Ahmad Shah Massoud … I myself made the Cyclist in 1998, a fiction story about an Afghan exile on the border of our country. 250 years ago Afghanistan belonged to Iran. Due to the war with the Soviet Union in the 80/s, and the subsequent coming to power of the Talibans, six million Afghans fled their country, two and a half million of them took refuge in Iran.
We come into contact with them in our day-to-day life. They are workers …
On day a young Afghan woman, who had taken refuge in Canada, came to see me. She had just received a desperate letter from her friend who wanted to commit suicide because of the harsh conditions in Kandahar. She wanted to go back and help her friend at all cost. She asked me to go with her and film her journey.
Did you go with her?
No, but later I secretly entered Afghanistan and I saw the dramatic life conditions of its inhabitants. That’s when I started doing research, I dissected the thousands of pages of official documents about the economic, political and military situation … Likewise, I read literary works and watched documentaries. But this Afghan woman’s journey to Kandahar still remains the basis for the screenplay. Obviously, I added my own imagination and any other information I could gather. In my film the friend became a little sister.
Are the other characters real or fictitious?
Virtually all of them exist. The American militant who starts having serious doubts, for example.
What does Nafas (The main character) represent for you?
She symbolizes the Afghan woman who has discovered a better life in Canada. She wants to go home but does not feel like the average Afghan woman, who is merely a harem member to men. Nafas means “respiration”, it’s an Afghan name. The “burka” (a gown worn by Afghan women which covers the entire body) prevents women from breathing and from being free.
With regards to your method of working, at which stage did you discover its form?
This film is like a travel guide. Its form came to me whilst writing the screenplay and evolved whilst filming. For example, the wedding scene was made up on the spot. When you look at these women wrapped in their burkas, there is an esthetic harmony on the outside, but on the inside, under every burka, there is suffocation. It’s a strange contradiction. As they do not have the right to show their physical beauty they use the beauty of their clothing.
At times the sound and even the directing, towards the end of the film, remind us of certain works by Pasolini …
Those murmured songs, which to us seem strange songs for a wedding ceremony.
I had never before heard such sad songs to celebrate a marriage.
How do you explain that such a country, with such an ancient civilization, has today fallen into obscurity?
The Afghans have got stuck in their ancientness. Like Reza Shah in Iran, in the 1930’s, or Ataturk in Turkey, Amanoullah has tried to make the country progress, but he soon came up against a huge religious resistance. One could say that this county has been vaccinated against modern civilization!
I conducted an in-depth study on this subject, which I am going to publish under the title “Afghanistan, a country without images”. At the beginning of the 21-century, the Talibans have a problem with images! There is no cinema, they have even taken away television. Their newspapers do not print pictures. Taking photographs or painting is considered “impure”. Music is forbidden. Girls’ schools have been closed down. Girls’ schools have been closed down. Girls do not have a right to anything, not even public baths! In 1996 the Talibans ordered a big library in Kabul, containing 55.000 books, to be burnt to the ground. According to a report by the United Nations, on million Afghans are today in danger of being killed, without mentioning the millions of people who have lost their legs due to the mines. The world is more distressed at the destructions of stone Buddha’s than at the fate of human beings.
The Talibans appeared after the county was occupied by the Soviets. A national resistance, consisting of various ethnic groups, was formed immediately. But when the Soviets left, they didn’t get along with each other. A civil war took place. The poorest people took refuge in Pakistan. In the Koran school camps, Pakistan, which has the total support of Saudi Arabia and the United States, created the Taliban group, an army of ignorance. The Afghans, tired of the war, surrendered themselves to this army, which had supposedly come to bring peace and restore order. In fact, their chief, Mollah Omar, is never seen, but the things he would have said are always talked about. It’s strange, isn’t it?