Director Andrei Kavun
Actors Alexander Baluev, Vladimir Mashkov, Yuri Belyaev, Bogdan Benyuk, Alexander Golubev, Andrey Panin, Alexander Robak
Andrei Kavun, Kandahar (Kandagar, 2010)reviewed by Anindita Banerjee © 2010
Viewing Kandahar in the United States in September 2010 is a strange experience indeed. America’s nine-year military presence in Afghanistan has been overtaken by a chain-reaction of highly mediatized spectacles, all clamoring for the restoration of 9/11 in the national cultural memory: the grievance against a Sufi-led cultural center in downtown Manhattan, a parade complete with costumes and floats around Ground Zero, a preacher calling upon citizens to burn the Koran on the fateful date. The teeming, persistent half-lives of September 11, 2001 cannot help but bleed into Kavun’s rendition—a word which has also lost its innocence over the last decade to stand for “disappearing beyond borders”—of a real-life incident inextricably bound with the politics of memory and forgetting.
In 1995, the crew of a Russian IL-76 aircraft en route to Kabul was forced by the Taliban to land in Kandahar and held captive in the war-torn city for more than a year. The film visualizes the long twilight of the physical, juridical, and cognitive disappearance of this group of men, whose affiliation to the Russian state remains unclear from beginning to end. Locked up in walled stone compounds of a terra incognita pockmarked by violence, they became tragically invisible in the eyes of both the government and the public back home, even after their return 378 days later on the same aircraft. In an interview to the Los Angeles Times, the director ascribes a higher objective to his project of recuperating the notes kept by Vladimir Sharpatov, the captain of the captive crew. Committing the forgotten saga of the “unsung heroes” to screen, Kavun asserts, serves an important function in the new era of diminishing patriotism: it reconnects the audience to the idea of the motherland (Loiko and Stack).
However the film does not lend itself easily to this seamless alignment between source, content, intent, and objective. Encoded within its very fabric is a far more complicated interrogation of the redemptive powers of memorialization. Clad in the big-budget mantle of the Hollywood-ish thriller, featuring iconic male actors, set against exotic locations and people (Morocco standing in for Afghanistan), and enhanced by computer-animated graphics, Kandahar nevertheless seems to dismantle, layer by relentless layer, the very notion of patriotism as unquestioned allegiance to an imagined brotherhood with a shared geography and history. Ironically, the disjuncture is most apparent in its relationship with a foundational narrative shared by the Russian and American national imaginaries: captivity and heroic survival amidst geographical, linguistic, ethno-racial, and cultural Others. ...