Last winter, when Christophe de Ponfilly's documentary ''Massoud, the Afghan'' was shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, it was hard to imagine a more urgently topical film. Its subject, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Tajik commander who had, over more than 20 years, fought the Red Army and then the Taliban, was assassinated by Al Qaeda suicide bombers on Sept. 9, 2001, in a grisly prelude to the attacks on the United States two days later. In the war that followed, the United States and its allies routed Massoud's enemies, the Taliban, and put together a government led by his allies in the Northern Alliance -- a posthumous and as yet perilously incomplete victory for the soldier known as the Lion of Panjshir.
Mr. Ponfilly's film, which opens today at Film Forum, is of course no less relevant than it was a year ago. Indeed, its release should serve as a timely reminder that, even as our government trains its sights on Iraq, the hardships of Afghanistan, a country nearly obliterated by decades of war, persist. Few Westerners can claim as intimate a knowledge of that war or as deep a connection with the people of Afghanistan, as Mr. Ponfilly. He first went to the country in 1981, to record the Mujahadeen's war against the Soviet invaders, and he returned many times over the next 16 years.