How time flies. Less than four months after the American attack on Afghanistan, I saw this couldn't-be-more-timely drama/documentary at a nearly empty movie theatre. Perhaps lines would have formed around the block back in October, with audiences eager to learn more about the plight of the besieged Afghani people, but I guess the topic is now just so 2001. Too bad, because Kandahar is an intriguing film: surreal, bleak, eye-opening, and surprisingly objective. (Interestingly, half the dialogue is in English.)

Exemplifying a common aesthetic in Iranian film – and Makhmalbaf is at the epicenter of current Iranian cinema – Kandahar is both fiction and nonfiction, following a Canada-based Afghan woman who is rushing to Kandahar because her depressed sister has written to say she will commit suicide at the next solar eclipse, in just three days. Along the way, the woman's journey takes on a documentary flair, as she encounters locals (all non-actors, many of them paraplegics thanks to land mines) who speak of their own troubles in their own tongue, and has a surprising encounter with an African American (a fictional character) who had come to Afghanistan to fight for the Islamic cause and later found that the best way he could help was by providing elementary medical assistance to the malnourished and uneducated people of the region.

Despite its grim setting, Kandahar is visually stunning, with sun-drenched desert landscapes contrasting with the textural close-ups of dusty burqas and cracked hands. Among one of its most bizarre and unforgettable scenes is one in which a passing airplane drops several pairs of parachute-borne prosthetic legs into the desert, while dozens of legless men hobble furiously over on crutches to beat each other to the prize.

Kandahar, like its heroine, wanders a bit, and the completely open-ended finale may put off viewers mistakenly expecting closure, but it's still worthwhile viewing – and not just as Current Affairs homework.