Film as humanitarian work is not a new concept for the directors of the Iranian New Wave, and in Kandahar and Baran, two of the latest works from that country’s seemingly inexhaustible source of thoughtful and conscientious movies, the suffering of the Afghan people takes center stage. Here, we see dramatized what we’ve been seeing on the news for months: the images of women in burkas, of soldiers who’ve lost legs and arms to land mines, of malnourished children forced into manual labor. They are potent images and their fictional contexts do little to diminish their raw power. If anything, their power grows as they become less real and more cinematically beautiful. Suffering has never looked this good. Kandahar, with its desert vistas and surreal imagery, is certainly the prettier of the two, but Baran, which was shot almost entirely on a muddy construction site under perpetually cloudy skies, is the true romantic, finding unrequited love in one of the most desolate places on Earth.
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