Afghan stranger's homecoming

The Kite Runner: 128 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Marc Forster. Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Homayoun Ershadi.

The Kite Runner movie poster Marc Forster certainly enjoys strumming heartstrings. Monster's Ball (2001) was racially charged melodrama. Finding Neverland (2004) raised a treacle-sweet tribute to Peter Pan creator J. M. Barrie. Stranger Than Fiction (2006) even managed to make loud-mouthed comic actor Will Ferrell show his sensitive side.

Forster's latest film, based on Khaled Hosseini's eponymous novel, The Kite Runner ultimately suffers under this deference to the emotive, although its first act, a bleak 'magical realist' fairytale set in Afghanistan, is memorable enough.

In fact, there is one scene in particular that makes the film worthwhile. Two young Afghani boys, Amir (Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Mahmidzada) participate in a kite-fighting tournament during the late 1970s. The sight of thousands of kites dog-fighting high above the rooftops of Kabul is an almost-fantastical vision that evokes the wonder of childhood — and foreshadows, in bittersweet whimsical fashion, the real-life warfare that will later wrack the country.

But not all is magic and wonder. Hassan's father is Amir's father's servant; they are minority Hazaras, and the boys' friendship feels the strain of the class and cultural distinction. This is exacerbated when Hassan is bullied and brutalised by a local budding racist, and Amir, already artistic and sensitive in his youth, fails to intervene.

The event puts a wedge between the boys, not due to resentment from Hassan (who is played by Mahmidzada with an earnest sense of loyalty that is difficult to look away from) but to Amir's own guilt. The friendship ends, at least temporarily. Not long after that Amir and his father Baba (Ershadi) are forced to flee to America following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The film loses its stride during a middling middle act, which studiously ticks off the milestones that carry Amir (Abdalla) from adolescence to adulthood. This portion of the film is disjointed and tokenistic — and Baba, initially a compelling and enigmatic character, fades to soap opera caricature — although to its credit it does efficiently capture Amir's tangential journey from his cultural heritage into Western modernity.

All of which provides the set-up for an ambitious but troublesome final act, where Amir, now a stranger to his homeland, is compelled to return. He discovers that Afghanistan is also now a stranger to him — the Taliban is in power, and his home city of Kabul lies in waste. His purpose for returning is largely concerned with confronting the guilt from his childhood, but the film degenerates into mindless adventure with a dwindling sense of characterisation and ineffectively heavy-handed pathos.

Effective or not, it's fair to read a political subtext into the film. The plot concludes in the year 2000; within 12 months September 11 will have occurred. The final scene, where an Afghani man and child fly a kite on a Californian hillside, pays testament to a US with its arms open in welcoming embrace. The unspoken inference is that a year later, that embrace will have turned to a vice grip. On reflection it's the film's most potent moment.


 

Tim Kroenert Tim Kroenert is the Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He was previously a staff writer and film reviewer with The Salvation Army's national editorial department. His articles have been published by Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and the speculative fiction review website ASif!.

 

 

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