Afghanistan is a country that has been at the forefront of the news for all the wrong reasons for nearly 30 years. What was once a beautiful country has been ravaged by a brutal, longstanding civil war and has been left reeling in the aftermaths of it. It's little wonder therefore, that after so many years of turmoil, the country has become rife to all kinds of lawlessness and a way of life that the outside world can no longer relate to or remotely understand.
It is of course not entirely all of it's own doing. The 1979 Soviet invasion destabilised the country massively so and when the Russians eventually left, the Taliban fundamental movement stepped in to fill the void. In 2001 the US invaded Afghanistan in anger to overthrow the Taliban. Since then the country has been under the intense scrutiny of the world as a place that so horridly harboured terrorists.
With a recent history like that you'd be forgiven to think that humanity and compassion were complete unknowns for the children having grown up there in those times. It is all so terribly sad. Khaled Hosseini's novel 'The Kite Runner' is brought to life by Marc Forster to show that even in the darkest of hours and the darkest of times, the formative years of the human psyche can instil a friendship and bonding that has the propensity to last a lifetime.
Geographically, Afghanistan sits to the North West of Pakistan. The two countries are commonly referred to as 'brothers' and share an open border that sees both sets of people migrate freely between each other. Along with the people there is much similarity in both the cultures. Kite Flying for example has a massive following and during the day you will see hundreds of people flying them from their flat rooftops. When you see the sky populated with so many colourful kites, it's actually quite a spectacle to behold.
They say in the Asian sub-continent that if you know how to fly a kite well, it's a sure sign of a miss spent youth. The thing is flying kites is not just limited to being a leisurely exercise because it has long since become a fiercely competitive sport of sorts. The idea is to fly your kite, find someone to challenge and in the aerial battle that ensues, you try to 'cut' your opponents kite out of the sky by severing its string.
The kites tend to be fabricated very differently to their Western counterparts. Usually made out of a balsa wood frame, they are covered with a paper like membrane, making them incredibly light so as to be able to simply rise on the convection currents that exist.
However, the real secret lies in the preparation of the string. Glass is usually ground down into fine particles, mixed with glue and then applied to the string in painstaking fashion. Once the glue has set and hardened, this leaves the string with a razor-like sharpness enabling it to cut through your opponents line; very serious stuff indeed.
All of this would mean for nothing if victory didn't mean anything; friendly rivalry, banter and a few wagers go hand in hand. The final exchange is however always the same. Once you've cut your opponents kite, it's traditional that you then go to collect your prize as it falls out of the sky. A kite runner is the guy who goes and retrieves the fallen kite for you.
It's the 1970's and Kabul is a relatively liberal place. Amir Qadiri (Zekeria Ebrahimi) is the son of a wealthy and influential man Baba (Homayoun Ershadi). They live an affording affluent lifestyle and have a servant called Ali who has a son called Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada). Hassan is a Hazara (Mongolian descent) and not of pure Pashtun blood, unlike Amir. The film goes to some lengths to underline a racial divide that has always caused an uncomfortable tension between both sets of people. Hassan is Amir's friend but more importantly he is also his kite runner.
However, when you're a child you can be quite oblivious to these things and Baba positively discourages discrimination between the two. The two children grow up like brothers with Hassan being utterly devoted to Amir. Unfortunately one day whilst kite running, Hassan is bullied by some Pashtun teenagers along the way and then quite sadly raped by Assef, the lead gang member. Unbeknown to Hassan, Amir actually watches upon the incident from a distance. He feels too ashamed to intervene and help Hassan in case the other boys turn upon him.
The incident has some far reaching consequences and over time, an awkward sense of embarassment grows between them. Whilst they never speak about it directly, Amir is too ashamed to let his friend know that he was there and saw exactly what happened. The embarassment causes Amir to shun him although Hassan never quite knows why he continues to turn his back upon him. A sense of guilt develops within Amir which he never has the opportunity to reconcile.
The year moves to 1979 and the Soviet invasion forces Baba to flee the country along with his son. They initially seek refuge in Pakistan but from there they soon move to America to settle into a life far removed from where they once came. One of the real strengths of this film is how the story leaves you with a feeling of what it must feel like to be forced into exile and become disillusioned in your patronage. That is an immensely difficult thing to convey but it's done so remarkably well in this film.
Moving forward a couple of decades later, Amir Qadiri (Khalid Abdalla) is now married and settled in California. His late father has since passed away but Amir has continued to try to realise his childhood dream. Since his early childhood he was blessed with an imaginative mind and he had a natural talent to be able to write stories. With a good education behind him and having lived in America it enables for him to become a successful novelist in his own right.
However, you cannot forget the past and a phone call from an old friend living in Peshawar, Pakistan sets a reflective tone upon the whole film. Rahim Khan reveals some home truths of who Hassan actually was and the revelations sink Amir's heart. Whilst the road to forgiveness is not always an accessible one, Amir feels that he must do something to obligate his duties. “There is a way to be good again.”
Remarkably, if all that had gone before was not enough, the film then takes us on a harrowing journey of redemption. It's a story about salvation of the soul, self-realisation and how to put to rest a conscience that will never sleep.
Marc Forster has to be applauded for pulling together what is a difficult story in such an eminently coherent fashion. There is much depth to this film and it's not an easy watch. That's not to say it's an overly intense experience or a difficult one to get into; it isn't. You are led by the hand through a story that has real meaning by some brilliant and convincing acting performances
The Kite Runner is a story so beautifully told that it does all that it can to immerse you into an emotive world with a guilt trip that will tug compellingly at the strings of your heart. The story has an ultimate redemption that is rarefied by the absence of anything remotely comparable. The Kite Runner is by all accounts a must see film.
Our Review Ethos