Kite flying is practically a contact sport in Afghanistan. It is also surprisingly cinematic in Marc Forster’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling The Kite Runner. As has been said before, Kite Runner (trailer here) is a work of fiction, but it deserves credit for its unflinchingly realistic portrayal of life under the Taliban regime. It is also a very personal story about the bonds of friendship and family.
As the film opens, debut novelist Amir Agha’s guilt-ridden past intrudes on his life of domestic tranquility in America. Summoned to Pakistan by a close friend of the family, we see his early years in Afghanistan unfold through flashbacks. The Kite Runner is actually Hassan, the son of the loyal family retainer. A close friend of Amir, Hassan has a particular talent for chasing down the trophy kites “cut” by the young protagonist during the dog fight contests that animated the Kabul skies before the Taliban’s prohibition.
In Kite, the past has an ever tangible effect on the present, as one moment of shame undoes the boys’ friendship and colors every succeeding event of Amir’s life. The young actors in these roles are far superior to most child stars seen in Hollywood films. Watching them, there is no doubt of the gravity of the situations playing out on screen. As young Amir, Zekira Ebrahimi probably has as much screen time as Khalid Abdalla gets as adult Amir, which might make it difficult to delineate lead and supporting performances for purposes of award nominations.
As Amir’s father (Baba), Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi gives a particularly award worthy performance. The character of Baba provides the film’s moral center. In a formative scene, he explains to Amir that theft is the greatest sin of all, because it is the basis of all other crimes—theft of one’s life, theft of a loved one’s life, theft of the truth, and so on. He has no use for the mullahs or the Communists, complaining before the invasion: ““the Mullahs want to control our souls, while the Communists deny we have any.”
Shaun Toub also gives an effecting performance in the role of the family friend Rahim Khan, which is likely to be underappreciated for its understated dignity. We see Khan recognize and encourage young Amir’s literary talents, and the lasting impact of his kind attention. It is the sort of noble character that we rarely see in contemporary movies.
Kite is scrupulously honest in its portrayal of the brutality and corruption of both the Soviets and the Taliban. We see a burkha clad woman stoned to death in a Taliban public assembly. It is a disturbing, but necessary scene, as is the now infamous assault scene, which led to the concerns for the young actors’ safety. It is horrifying, but not exploitative. Director Forster handled these challenges well, crafting a very impressive film.
At its core, Kite is a story about family, but it does not happen in a vacuum. Its frighteningly realistic backdrop of a land scarred by Communist occupiers and Islamic Fascism heightens the drama and gives the film additional relevance. It opens today on 35 screens, including the Sunshine in New York.
(Note: For New Yorkers, as good as Kite Runner is, remember to also check out Singing Revolution this weekend while you can.)