Chil­dren of Afghanistan

This tale of boy­hood friend­ship and be­trayal is sen­si­tively told, if un­even, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

THE KITE RUN­NER Di­rected by Marc Forster. Star­ring Khalid Ab­dalla, Ho­may­oun Er­shadi, Zekiria Ebrahimi, Ah­mad Khan Mah­moodzada, Atossa Leoni 15A cert, gen re­lease, 127 min

MARC Forster is a ver­sa­tile di­rec­tor who moves with ease be­tween gen­res in movies as di­verse as Mon­ster’s Ball, Find­ing Nev­er­land and Stranger Than Fiction, and he’s now work­ing on the next James Bond ad­ven­ture. His new film, The Kite Run­ner, is based on the pop­u­lar de­but novel by Khaled Hos­seini, who grew up in Afghanistan and, like Forster, now lives in the US.

The film be­gins in San Fran­cisco in 2000, when Amir, the pro­tag­o­nist, has pub­lished his first novel. He re­ceives a call from an old fam­ily friend in Pak­istan, and this cues an ex­tended flash­back to 1978, when Amir is a boy liv­ing in Kabul with his fa­ther. A sen­si­tive only child, Amir wrongly be­lieves that his fa­ther blames him for the death of his mother in child­birth.

Amir’s best friend is Has­san, the son of the fam­ily ser­vant and the sub­ject of racist taunts as a mem­ber of the lower-class Hazara. Whereas Amir shirks from con­fronta­tion, Has­san, who is smaller, is fear­less in de­fend­ing him­self. When a teenage bully vi­ciously at­tacks Has­san phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally (the scene is dis­creetly han­dled but dis­turb­ing), Amir watches in hor­ror but doesn’t in­ter­vene.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two boys is never the same again, and the con­se­quences will haunt Amir for the rest of his life. As the movie re­flects on the ca­pac­ity for cru­elty in chil­dren, and as Amir grows up to ad­dress his guilt in fiction, The Kite Run­ner in­evitably re­calls Atone­ment.

The ex­pan­sive nar­ra­tive goes on to deal with the 1979 Rus­sian in­va­sion, the es­cape of Amir and his staunchly anti-Com­mu­nist fa­ther to the US, and the adult Amir’s re­turn to Kabul, which has changed ut­terly un­der the Tal­iban regime. The screen­play is by David Be­nioff, who wrote 25th Hour, Troy and Jim Sheri­dan’s im­mi­nent Brothers, and he was faced with an un­en­vi­able task in con­dens­ing Hos­seini’s novel into a two-hour film.

As a re­sult, the US sec­tion of the story is quite sketchy and in­tro­duces un­der­writ­ten char­ac­ters. The scenes set in 21st-cen­tury Kabul are un­flinch­ing in de­pict­ing life un­der the Tal­iban, such as guards on “beard pa­trols” and the ston­ing of adul­ter­ers at half-time dur­ing a foot­ball game. Yet this se­quence feels trun­cated and rather too neatly re­solved.

The film is much more ef­fec­tive in its first half, as it es­tab­lishes its themes of be­trayal and re­demp­tion, and it ben­e­fits from the won­der­fully nat­u­ral per­for­mances of Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ah­mad Khan Mah­moodzada, the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Afghan boys cast as Amir and Has­san. Forster il­lus­trates the film’s re­cur­ring mo­tif, as the boys en­thu­si­as­ti­cally en­gage in kite-fly­ing con­tests, with a strik­ing sim­plic­ity.

Khalid Ab­dalla, the Scot­tish ac­tor who played one of the 9/11 hi­jack­ers in United 93, cap­tures the lin­ger­ing shame felt by the adult Amir, while Ho­may­oun Er­shadi, the Ira­nian ar­chi­tect who turned ac­tor in A Taste of Cherry, brings dig­nity and moral grav­i­tas to the role of Amir’s fa­ther.

Nat­u­ral born ac­tors: Ah­mad Khan Mah­moodzada and Zekiria Ebrahimi as Amir and Has­san

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