At Five In The Afternoon is the second film I have seen this year regarding the situation of women in Afghanistan. Osama was set under the regime of the Taliban, At Five In The Afternoon is set afterwards, and the difference is initially stark. Yes both have women dressing one way to suit parents or society, and then changing to suit themselves, but in At Five In The Afternoon it is only Noqreh, our lead, who seems affected. A twenty year old who is finally allowed to go to school she talks of becoming the first female president of Afghanistan. And despite all the cultural challenges surrounding her, you get the feeling she might just make it.

Osama was a tragedy, wheras Samire Makhmalbaf’s film is something quite different. It is more a picaresque tale, with Noqreh encountering various factions and parts of modern Afghanistan (refugees returning from Pakistan, a smitten man, a French soldier). Wildly inconsistent it lurches from polemic to beautiful cinematography, from comedy to tragedy. And yet the mess coalesces as a whole, there is no one Afghanistan, and if Noqreh wants to lead it to a better future she needs to understand that. Whilst the ending is ambivalent, with the potential of tragedy around the corner, the film is happier to settle on a vaguely hopeful note.

Makhmalbaf has attempted a very ambitious state of the nation address of a nation that is not her own. As such is this an Iranian or Afghanistani movie, and does the Iranian viewpoint colour things a touch. As much as the European patronising the Iranian patronising the Afghani possibly. Makhmalbaf the younger is probably my favourite of the current Iranian directors I get to see (Rakhshan Bani Etemad – my favourite – not being shown all that often) and probably because she poses such questions without being as smug as her father or Abbas Kiarostami. Always watchable, At Five In the Afternoon does not need to resort to forced tragedy to explain the difficulties of women in Afghanistan. But in expressing some sort of hope, it is much more interesting.