The Kite Runner
|Shaun Toub||Rahim Khan|
|Zekira Ebrahimi||Young Amir|
|Directed by||Marc Forster|
Among the revelations of Marc Forster’s powerful adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel is that the excitement of a duel between kites outstrips the hyper-technics of Jedi rocket jockeys in digital fighters, and leaves the antics of battling superheroes in the dust. Watching the brightly colored paper warriors soar and swoop, wheel and spin, leap on a breath of wind toward space and then execute a sudden surgical dive to cut the string of a rival, you are reminded of how much can be done with passion and a few simple ingredients in the hands of kids far from the world of microchips. (That these scenes in the movie are computer enhanced detracts little from the principle).
The Kite Runner is a story of guilt and atonement. Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) grows up in pre-Soviet Afghanistan, the son of a well-to-do widowed father, Baba (the wonderful Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi, of A Taste of Cherry). Baba, a tough-minded intellectual, is worried about his son, who doesn’t seem to have inherited the manly qualities the father would like to see. “A boy who won’t stand up for himself won’t stand up for anything when he’s a man”, Baba complains to his friend Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub).
Amir’s best friend is Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of his father’s servant Ali (Nabi Tanha). Hassan would do anything for Amir, and often fights his fights for him. Amir is the bookish type, and writes stories, which Hassan loves to hear. The boys play together and go to the movies – their favorite is The Magnificent Seven, from which they can recite every line of dialogue. Most importantly, they fly kites together. Amir is adept at the flying, and Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul – when a kite string is severed in a duel and the kite flies free, Hassan knows instinctively where it will come down.
Amir wins the big all-city tournament, and Hassan takes off to capture his prize, the final kite downed in competition. When Amir goes looking for him, he finds his friend cornered by bullies. Too cowardly to step in and help, he watches helplessly from the shadows as Hassan is beaten, and much worse.
After that, their relationship changes. Amir despises himself, and Hassan’s continued presence and loyalty is a daily rebuke. Amir distances himself from his friend, and schemes to discredit Hassan and his father, and have them sent away.
It is not long after this that the Russians invade Afghanistan. The staunchly anti-communist Baba must flee with his son. He vows to return when the Russians leave, observing portentously “Everyone leaves. This country is not kind to invaders”. The family winds up in the San Francisco Bay area. In this brave new world the proud Baba is diminished to a gas station attendant. But Amir goes to school, and to college, and marries a nice Afghani girl, and publishes his first novel.
Underneath all this, Amir’s shameful childhood secret still festers like the cancer that is eating away his father. And shortly after Baba dies, the telephone rings. It is an ailing Rahim Khan, calling from Pakistan, with a cryptic reprieve: “And now there is a way to be good again”.
Readers of the novel will know what that way is. Suffice to say that Amir (played as an adult by Khalid Abdalla) reluctantly accepts this challenge and opportunity, and returns on a quest to an Afghanistan now firmly in the chilling grip of the Taliban. His mission is personal and dramatically satisfying, but the greater impact of this part of the story is the picture it gives of a society where intellect and individuality once flourished (at least for some), now gone mad under the brutal reign of terror of religious fundamentalism.
The Kite Runner is dramatically and visually sumptuous (much of the Afghan material was shot in China). It begins, revisits, and ends in northern California. But it never feels at home there. Where it lives is in Afghanistan, in the dusty streets and adobe alleys of Kabul, in the majestic mountains and desert landscapes and in the vast blue, kite-filled skies. Its real story is in the extended flashback of Amir’s youth and in the harrowing quest of his present.
Note: This movie has generated uncomfortable controversy over a scene in which a boy is sodomized by a gang of bullies, one of whom surfaces years later as a Taliban official. The scene, central to the story, is done with restraint, but the young actor playing the victimized boy claims he was not told about it until shortly before it was shot. He refused to lower his pants for the scene, but a double was used for a brief exposure of buttock. “They didn't give me the script. They didn't give me the story of The Kite Runner”, the boy told the Associated Press. “If I knew about the story, I wouldn't have participated as an actor in this film." It’s an allegation the producers have denied. Paramount, the film’s distributor, delayed the release of the film until the school term in Afghanistan ended and the families of the young actors could be gotten safely out of the country.
Despite this, and some disturbing violence, the film has a PG-13 rating.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be