Directed and written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, starring Nelofer Pazira and Sadou Teymouri. Director of Photography: Ebrahim Ghafouri.

A timely film by acclaimed Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 'Kandahar' tells the story of a sibling's courageous journey to the heart of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, in response to a cri de coeur from her sister, who has been maimed by a landmine. Nafas, a journalist who fled Afghanistan during the civil war and settled in Canada, decides to risk her liberty and personal safety for what many would consider an irrational mercy quest - to find her sister and prevent her from fulfilling her suicide plan at the last eclipse of the 20th century.

Travelling alone, Nafas embarks on a journey that takes her from the Iranian border to Kandahar, birthplace and stronghold of the Taliban. Her act of personal courage, symbolises the defiance of the women of Afghanistan in the face of oppression.

At the outset, Nafas hears a male teacher tell his young female charges at a refugee camp in Iran, that they are returning home and therefore their schooling is over. He adds "the walls are high but the sky is higher - one day the world will know your trouble and if not you must stand together." While education is denied to Afghan girls, what is offered to the boys is of dubious merit. Stopping off in a desiccated wasteland, which passes for a village, Nafas comes across one of the madaris, where scores of young boys are reciting the Koran. Their mullah quizzes them not on the words of Mohammed but on what a sabre or a kalashnikov is.

Prior to September 11, political indifference to the plight of Afghanistan may have led to this film being evaluated purely on its cinematographic merits, with little reference to the social and political reality that lies at the heart of its unfolding story. However Makhmalbaf’s absorbing film will be even more keenly examined for the insight it gives into life under the theocratic dystopia instituted by the Taliban (although all filming actually took place along Iran's border with Afghanistan).

This is a beautifully crafted work, combining social issue drama with a documentary format. Through Ebrahim Ghafouri's lens, the harshness of the landscape echoes the brutality of the daily lives of the people of Afghanistan. Makhmalbaf has created some visually memorable shots which linger long after the film has ended and serve as potent social comment. But he has resisted the temptation to cast the populace as collective martyrs - brigands and cheats abound, living on their guile and eking out an existence.

Each stage of Nafas's journey is woven seamlessly into the next, with each of her travel companions introduced in a prelude structured to overlap with Nafas's parallel journey. A dramatic edge is maintained because of the unpredictability of Nafas's fate and the audience's desire to know whether she makes it or not. Niloufar Pazira as Nafas gives a convincing performance, undoubtedly all the more emotional because of her own real-life attempts to contact a childhood friend who had written to her in Canada.

Dialogue in the film is in both English and Farsi. Nafas's English audio letter to her sister serves the dual function of creating a sense of her sister's presence and therefore giving Nafas a motive to keep going, while also enabling Nafas to scrutinise her homeland. For the most part it is a painful process - as she tells her sister "Along my journey – everything is at war..."

Sarah MacDonald