Published Sep 01, 2001
In "The Sun Behind the Moon," Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf follows a Canadian journalist as she journeys into Afghanistan in an effort to save her sister, who is planning to commit suicide because she cannot bear life there. Nafas (Niloufar Pazira) pays a man to pretend that she is one of his wives so that she can get into the country. Once across the borders, they are promptly robbed and Nafas hires a boy who has been kicked out of school to guide her to her sister's village. Along the way, Nafas records her thoughts into a tape recorder she has brought with her. This is a shame because it means that instead of always showing the horrors of life in Afghanistan, Makhmalbaf sometimes merely speaks of them through Nafas' character. When he does use his camera to tell his story, the images are poignant. They have a malignant resonance that is bound to haunt. At one point, Nafas comes upon a U.N. station where people who've lost their legs run after prosthetic limbs dropped from the sky by parachute.
Yet as devastating as images such as this are, they only half begin to describe life in a war-torn, famine-ridden country under Taliban rule. This journey into the heart of darkness seems incomplete. The journey also gets side tracked by one badly acted, badly written scene. When Nafas arrives at the U.N. station, she asks the aid workers if there's anyone who can help guide her to the end of the journey. The aid worker struggles for a reply in what looks like a badly improvised scene that would not have made the cut in a Mike Leigh movie. There are other inconsistencies as well, which mar the movie's effect. Nafas meets an African-American who warns her that the boy she has hired to guide her might sell her out at any time because of the poverty in which he lives. He agrees to guide Nafas part of the way himself, and then passes her off to a guy whose motives are a lot more suspect than the little boys. These flaws are distracting and they rob the movie of some of its force.