*The Kite Runner (PG-13)
Kimball's Twin Peak, Cinemark 16
The Kite Runner is a beautiful film about human ugliness spinelessness, small-mindedness, selfishness and shame and the possibility of moving beyond it to a new place of joy, all the more meaningful for being so hard-won. So modern and enlightened in its portrait of progressiveness, it is so wonderfully traditional in its embrace of the power of love and friendship. So rapturous in its depiction of merriment, it is so intently harsh in its illustration of secret humiliation. This is one of the very best films of 2007, and one that so perfectly puts a stamp on our confusing and distressing times.
Kabul in 1978 is a vibrant city, alive with human endeavor. The Taliban has not yet come; the revolution is on the horizon, but young pals Amir and Hassan know nothing of it. They spend their days going to the cinema to see The Magnificent Seven for the thousandth time and flying their kites over the city's rooftops.
Young actors Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, as Amir and Hassan, respectively, are uninhibited in their portrayals and as full of boyish secrets as little boys are. We believe that Amir, the son of a rich man, and Hassan, the son of that rich man's servant, can so sublimely suit each other they exude a Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer vibe that knows no cultural boundaries.
But then something bad happens: Perhaps it's worth a minor spoiler to say that it is the rape of a child. Hassan is attacked by a gang of teenage boys, and though the scene is not graphic, there is no doubt what is happening, partly because we see it through the eyes of Amir, who does nothing to stop the assault, though he clearly could have.
The violence perpetrated upon Hassan physical, emotional and psychological is in itself not a subject of great suspense, but it becomes a hideous metaphor for Afghanistan as a nation. This is not a point the film makes explicitly, but it's what moves the story beyond its simple, if highly effective and touching, melodrama about aching regret and terrible memories into an arena more pertinent to what's happening in the world today.
The story follows Amir as he becomes a teenager in America, to which he and his father fled the coming of the Taliban, and also as a 30-something writer living in San Francisco at the very beginning of the 21st century (and notably just before 9/11). A phone call from the old country from someone he was not expecting to hear from rocks him, churns up the past and sends him on a trip home that opens his eyes to what has happened to his homeland and what has happened to himself as a person.
It's like a horror story, in some ways. Afghanistan today looks like Mars, its rolling hills denuded of every tree, and its people stripped of their hearts and souls. Amir is but a shell of a man, too, though outwardly he appears pretty happy.
The Kite Runner is about him finding a way back to where he can fly a kite again. Though, at times, it's a horrific journey, this film is as simple and as profound as that.