Kite Runner, The

dir: Marc Foster
[img_assist|nid=31|title=Go fly a kite, boys, while you still can|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=470|height=340]
The Kite Runner, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, is a simple story about some Afghan people living through some interesting times.

I have a talent both for understatement, and for inaccuracy. More importantly, the story is about the life and character of a young man called Amir (Khalid Abdalla as an adult, Zekeriah Ebrahimi as a boy). He grows up in Kabul, in the 70s, under the watchful eye of his liberal, wealthy father (Homayoun Ershadi) and family friend Rahim (Shaun Toub).

He also has the constant companionship of servant boy Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) who worships the very ground he walks on. His devotion to Amir is nothing short of heart-breaking, but, to me at least, the devotion is not the sadomasochistic dog-like devotion of a weak, dependant neurotic. Hassan’s loyalty is fierce and strong.

And it would need to be, because Amir himself is something of a coward. When confronted by other child bullies and thugs, it is Hassan who steps up for the fight, protecting his ‘master’, even when the reason that the thugs are harassing them is that Hassan is of a different tribal ethnicity (he is often referred to as a Hazara). Amir’s own father senses that there is something missing in Amir, which is only one of the sources that fuels his resentment.

And how. Though much of the time the two boys are inseparable, there is that almost palpable barrier between them, born of more than class or caste. In the rough, bleached rock cemetery where presumably Amir’s mother was buried (she died during his birth), Amir carves their names, all the same, into a stunted, twisted tree’s trunk. Amir and Hassan: The Sultans of Kabul, says the carving. Hassan is delighted by this, despite being illiterate. Of the many activities that they do together, the two that please Hassan the most are being read to by Amir, and helping him fly kites in tournaments that amount to aerial dogfights.

Hence the name of the film and book. Hassan is the kite runner, the guy who steadies and supports the one actually flying the kite. But the way their interactions work out, it is Hassan who can predict the opponent’s movements and who steers Amir to victory.

Just another reason to resent him, I guess.

In such a story, with such a protagonist, something would have to come along which shatters the status quo and renders the petty concerns of a sullen, cowardly, guilt-ridden aristocrat moot. Moot I say, not mute. Moot!

You’d think, considering the timeframe, that it would be the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The truth is, though, Amir and Hassan’s world is destroyed long before the Soviet tanks start rolling down the main streets of Kabul.

Hassan’s utter, absolute loyalty to Amir brings him nothing but grief, until, at the hands of an utterly vile local thug, Hassan is raped. Not only that, but Amir, present at the time, does nothing to stop it.

Amir’s cowardice and guilt haunts him, to the point where he cannot stand the sight of Hassan, seeing as he is a living and breathing reminder of just how worthless Amir is. He contrives to have Hassan and his father sent away, which works out better than anyone could ever have imagined.

And then the Soviets appear out of nowhere, trying to kill everything that moves.

Now, a different kind of film would have shifted the focus away from Amir and his father for a while, and perhaps concentrated on the hideousness of the Soviet invasion, its aftermath and the subsequent rise of the Taliban. But this flick isn’t a documentary, nor does it pretend to be anything other than fiction.

It is no less powerful because of that. Amir and his father eventually get to Fresno in California, and manage to build up a respectable new life for themselves amongst the other Afghan émigrés who’ve made it to the States. Seeing how there is much more to be revealed and resolved, the rest of the flick does not go smoothly for any of the protagonists, least of all Amir. Nor should it, since he has much to make up for.

So many sad events occur, as, doubtless, someone would expect from a story about some Afghan people covering the history of the last thirty years. The return to Afghanistan, though filmed far from Afghanistan itself, makes it look like the Soviets were the least of the Afghan people’s problems, leaving a land as scorched earth and primed for the rise of fundamentalists so wicked and inhuman in their thinking that they can turn the execution of a woman into a soccer half-time entertainment, and who can justify the rape and exploitation of orphan children whilst patrolling the streets as the ruthless morality and beard police.

I am not so blinded by sentimentality and emotional manipulation that the various strange elements of the movie and the way it was put together aren’t apparent to me. I find it strange to an extent that, whilst there’s no doubting for a second that the acting performances aren’t spot on in most places, especially the leads, it’s strange recognising many of these actors, and wondering how it is that they came to be in these roles.

The lead actor playing Amir was familiar to me from United 93, the September 11 drama, as the terrorist who tells someone he loves them on a mobile before "replacing" the pilot on the ill-fateed flight. And I know enough about him to know that he’s from an Egyptian background. His father is played by an Iranian actor. Family friend Rahim is played by Iranian-born Shaun Toub, most recently recognisable to viewers of Iron Man as the token ‘good’ Muslim who helps out Tony Stark in his hour (week?) of need. Said Taghmaoui, who plays Amir’s driver in Kabul post-Taliban (and, noticeably, pre-American invasion), is a French actor of Moroccan heritage. Can you see where I’m going with this?

It’s the equivalent of, say, making a cinematic version of Memoirs of a Geisha and casting all the lead roles with non-Japanese actors. Oh, wait…

The Afghan bits are filmed in China; the soundtrack and general look is far more generically ‘Arabian’ that they have any right to be; the director is German and so much of the flick occurs in languages other than Pashto, Tajik, Dari, Farsi or any of the other fifteen million languages spoken in Afghanistan that it’s a wonder they didn’t have everyone speaking English right from the start.

But still. But still. Somehow this flick manages to vastly overcome all these Hollywood shortcomings and deliver a powerful and moving story. I don’t know how it happened. Something as well-meaning and misguided as this should never have worked. It should have, like Hosseini’s books themselves, appealed only to someone of Oprah Winfrey’s magnitude and superficiality, who could then urge her hordes of devotees to see the film in order to feel emotions and achieve catharsis in ways not available to them in their otherwise miserable lives.

It does work, though. It may be, as Afghanistan itself is, a brutal mishmash of elements and cultures, but through that process comes much beauty. There are a bunch of very strong scenes throughout the flick, none of which come out of nowhere, and all of which build on the central premise of decency and making amends for past selfishness. The scenes amongst the two boys (probably, and controversially, about the only Afghans in the film, much to their regret) are all bitter-sweet, and become even more so as their time runs short together. Amir’s father standing up to a lecherous Soviet soldier had my heart hammering and hurting at the same time, especially as it represents his father’s strengths and Amir’s lack of character yet again.

The kite scenes are well done, though obviously CGI. A wedding scene between Amir and his soon-to-be-bride Soraya (Atossa Leoni) is also quite beautiful and understated at the same time. But there are grim scenes to come, including at a soccer stadium and even more so tense exchanges at an orphanage and at a Taliban stronghold.

That goes without saying: all scenes at orphanages are tense and uncomfortable, in fiction and in real life. But the how and the why of Amir being there, and the manner in which he finally stands for something, really elevate this flick.

If it has a flaw, it’s that, whatever levels of plausibility and believability exist throughout the majority of the flick, the sections in Afghanistan, especially towards their resolution, aren’t really as believable as the storytellers would like them to be. To go a step further, I found the sequence representing the ‘rescue’ of a character towards the end of the film to be very Hard… To Believe.

It’s not that I felt it was unearned, or that it was trite, because it led to a powerful and heart-rending final scene that had me howling like a child. It’s just that, perhaps due to embarrassment over how nakedly emotional the flick left me feeling, I feel like the story and the narrative are a bit too broadly drawn and placed in too shiny a package for it to be a genuine story worthy of reflecting the misery suffered by the Afghan peoples, inflicted from within and without for so long.

But, hell, I’m a film lover, not a charter member of the United Nations, so what do I know. The Kite Runner is a beautiful film, worthy watching indeed.

8 times the last line of dialogue literally had me sobbing like a celebrity arrested and dragged before a judge before finding Jesus out of 10

“Fuck the Russia!” – perhaps the most unusual graduation day toast heard in these parts, The Kite Runner.