Afghanistan, through a child’s eyes
Certain films scream Oscar bait: They’re often competently-made if semibland dramas told through a stately lens, and they deal competently with themes of lost innocence, betrayal, redemption and second chances. But sometimes they just can’t shake the fact that rather than simply being a good movie, they just feel “good” for you – it’s the cinematic equivalent of eating your vegetables. “The Kite Runner,” based on Khaled Hosseini’s wildly popular novel, falls into this category. Both the book and its faithful movie adaptation by director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Benioff deal with the cultural enigma of Afghanistan through the friendship of two boys growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan. On the day of the titular kite-fight, the young, privileged boy Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), succumbs to a moment of fear and abandons his best friend and cultural lesser Hussein (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) to a horrible fate. In the shadow of a horrific war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, Amir flees to America. Amir returns as an adult to absolve himself of the sins he left in Afghanistan 20 years prior. But instead of the oppressive Soviet regime, he finds the repressive Taliban. Here the film loses a bit of steam as it delves into the changes and horrors of the Taliban – because it does so as an outsider, not as an Afghani insider might. Modern-day Afghanistan is painted with too wide a brush, as one might read about it on Wikipedia rather than experience it themselves. Forster faithfully paints the film with the dusty, snowcapped mountains and bright cultural elements we might expect of Afghanistan (the film was actually shot in China), but it’s missing a little heart and soul. This heart and soul could’ve been given, perhaps, by an Afghan filmmaker – or at least someone with a little more connection to the culture. Forster, who previously delved into “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland” with mixed results doesn’t possess the craft necessary to truly bring Afghanistan to life. I would’ve loved to see a director with a sense of romance, like Guillermo Del Toro, attempt to dive into such a rich foreign culture. The child actors who populate the majority of the film are appealing but amateur; Mahmoodzada is effective in his portrayal of a hopeful boy ruined by circumstance. David Benioff should get credit for seeing his screenplay faithfully rendered almost completely in Dari, the primary language of Afghanistan. The subtitled dialogue helps give the movie an air of authenticity, but sometimes the Western seams still show. In real life, the filmmakers helped relocate the Afghan boy actors and their families to the United Arab Emirates because they worried about the boys’ safety. They feared the cultural misunderstandings about the harrowing dramatic elements visited on the boys in the film could result in real-life backlash. To me, that seems like the fascinating story – a place so culturally different from ours that fictional dishonor could result in real-world punishment. It touches deeply on the political and cultural landscape of Afghanistan in ways “The Kite Runner” only glosses over.
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