Kandahar, one of the few films to be shot inside Afgahanistan, charts the journey of Nafas (the excellent Niloufar Pazira); a reporter who was born in Afghanistan and fled to Canada with her parents, leaving her sister behind in a hasty departure. Following receipt of a letter from her sister - who plans to commit suicide during the final eclipse of the 20th century - Nafas undertakes a perilous trip, with just 72 hours to reach her loved one.
Part feature, part documentary, Khandahar features a combination of real actors and actual refugees encountered along the way, as Nafas enlists the help of a succession of people - each one exhibiting the horrors of a country in turmoil. Makhmaltaf, who secretly entered the country to film, addresses the plight of men, women and children under the oppressive rule of the Taliban: racketeers, thieves, a doctor fighting the good fight against impossible odds, women stripped of their identity, children denied their youth..... it's clearly a picture of despair, but also one containing courage, with people doing the best they can to survive, by whatever means necessary.
There are times when Kandahar enters slightly surreal - some would say inappropriate territory; the sight of replacement legs dropping from the sky via parachute seems more suited to the (admirable) likes of La Dolce Vita, but generally, the director's choices are right on the money. A group of school children being warned to stay away from disgarded toys that may contain landmines; a makeshift surgery where female patients can only be examined through a cloth partition, with a small hole cut out to reveal a mouth, an eye; just enough to enable a quick, and almost certainly incorrect diagnosis, borne out of years of outdated beliefs. Just a few scenes from a film which should be seen by many, but, ultimately, will only fashion the nightmares of a few.