Look Homeward, Angel

In effect, The Royal Tenenbaums creates an alternate universe where every taxi is a battered gypsy cab and even a North Dakota clinic overlooks the wintry Hudson River. More than anything, the movie is redolent of late autumn in New York. The weather is overcast and chilly, but the human relations, however neurotic, have a cheery glow—it's not for nothing that the family name means Christmas tree.

Kandahar may be the most fortuitously titled release to open here since Warner Bros. unveiled Casablanca only weeks after the Allies landed in North Africa. Mohsen Makhmalbaf's flawed but groundbreaking feature was conceived, well in advance of U.S. policy, to lift the burka on the lives of women (and others) in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

This mortal Royal: Hackman with Grant Rosenmeyer (left) and Jonah Meyerson
photo: James Hamilton
This mortal Royal: Hackman with Grant Rosenmeyer (left) and Jonah Meyerson


The Royal Tenenbaums
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson & Owen Wilson
Buena Vista
Opens December 14

Written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Lincoln Plaza
Opens December 14

Canadian broadcast journalist Nelofer Pazira essentially plays herself as Nafas, an Afghan woman who left the country as a teenager and has returned in a desperate attempt to find her suicidal sister behind the Muslim curtain. The quest takes her to Kandahar, which, as the Taliban spiritual center, is more a state of mind than an actual city. Indeed, Afghanistan might as well be Mars. Essentially a road film, Kandahar tracks Nafas's progress across a barren planet where land-mine-mutilated men and the multicolored wrapped objects we deduce are women eke out a harsh insect existence.

Dropped at an Iranian refugee camp, Nafas re-enters Afghanistan in a three-wheeled van, disguised as the fourth wife in an impoverished family. She continues alone, on foot through the desert after the family is robbed, and returns to the safety of Iran, picking up a child guide at a chaotic mullah-administered school where the boys pray over their Kalashnikovs. The environment is chimerical. Nafas is befriended by an English-speaking doctor compelled to treat his female patients through a hole in a sheet hung between them (and who has several secrets of his own). She encounters a pair of apparently Polish nurses treating a horde of legless men, and ultimately attempts to smuggle herself into Kandahar by joining a wedding party, along with a one-handed beggar who is hiding beneath a burka.

Kandahar was made under extreme conditions on the Iranian-Afghan border, and the filmmaker's duress is evident. The dubbing is poor; the non-professional performances are stiff and monotonously declarative. The improvised dramatic scenes are punctuated with pictorial inserts—most likely an editing necessity. The movie feels truncated, but it communicates a certain urgency and at times a powerful sense of the absurd. No one who sees it will forget the cruel image of several dozen maimed men hobbling on their crutches into the desert where prosthetic limbs are parachuting down from the sky.

Related Articles:

"His Royal Highness: Wes Anderson's Genius Lessons" by Jessica Winter

"Final Approach: Kandahar Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Covert Operations" by Lisa Katzman

J. Hoberman's review of Rushmore

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