Our Rating: ★★★★☆
L Factor: Gender Bender/Major lesbian character
Short Take: Two friends travel from Switzerland to Afghanistan in prewar 1939. One often passes as a man and finds a lover in Tehran.
Alternate Titles: Die Reise Nach Kafiristan
Year: 2001
Duration: 106 min
Language: Germany/German
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Donatello Dubini, Fosco Dubini
Writer: Donatello Dubini, Fosco Dubini
Starring: Jeanette Hain, Nina Petri, Monika Arno, Vassilios Avgouteas, Jochen Baumert, Senta Bonneval, Christine Buck, Matthew Burton, Andre Dahms, Christoph Frass, Len Haddad, Carlheinz Heitmann, Rania Kurdi, Thomas Morris, Madeen Mustafa

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Journey to KafiristanBased on a true story, The Journey to Kafiristan follows ethnologist Ella Maillart (Nina Petri, Run Lola Run) and her traveling companion, writer Annemarie Schwarzenbacher (Jeanette Hain), as they drive from Switzerland to Afghanistan in pre-war 1939. Ella wants to make a name for herself in the academic world by studying a group of isolated nomads, while Annemarie is running away from a morphine addiction and looking to find herself.

What we see is an amazing cinemagraphic journey, with wonderful images and landscapes on the long drive, actually shot in today’s Uzbekistan. The pace of the film is slow and delicately introspective, with meaningful but short dialog between the two women and long, comfortable silences. They are not lovers, but have a deep and growing love for one another and an ever present sexual tension.

Annemarie routinely dresses in a man’s suit and necktie, passing as a man with locals, and presumed to be a lesbian by other Europeans. When they reach Tehran, she puts on a dress to meet her husband, a French diplomat, and is relieved to find him away. Instead, she spends her time in the city making love to a Turkish woman.

On the way to Kabul, the journey is cut short when war in Europe causes Afghanistan to restrict the travel of foreigners. The travelers’ ambiguous relationship is never resolved, so this film can’t quite be categorized as a romance, but it is a lovely film of the art house variety. Watch it more than once to find more in it each time.(AB)