High-flying Afghan drama

Posted on 13 Dec 2007 at 5:44pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

Controversial tale about child rape is one of the year’s best pictures



The Kite Runner

B+

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Shaun Toub, Khalid Abdalla, Nasser Memarzia, Said Taghmaoui and Atossa Leoni
Opens Dec. 14 in wide release.
2 hrs., 2 min PG-13

“The Kite Runner” is a wonderful story of friendship and cowardice. And it shows how a simple action or inaction can have ramifications decades later.

In San Francisco in 2000, Afghan-American novelist Amir (Khalid Abdalla) receives a phone call urging him to “come home.”

In Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1978, young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) is flying a kite with Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of his father, Baba’s (Homayoun Ershadi) longtime servant, Ali (Nabi Tanha).

Amir and Hassan are such close friends you may not be aware of the class differences between them. But then a pack of bullies, led by Assef (Elham Ehsas) points it out, telling Amir a wealthy Pashtun shouldn’t hang with a poor Hazara.

Baba fills in another aspect of the boys’ relationship, lamenting to his friend Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub) that Hassan defends Amir, who won’t stand up for himself and thus will grow up to be “a man who won’t stand up for anything.” Rahim Khan is more sympathetic to the 12-year-old’s literary ambitions and less concerned about his lack of machismo.

Amir shames even himself when he witnesses Assef beating and raping Hassan and does nothing to help. He takes his self-contempt out on the doting Hassan, until Ali quits and takes the boy out of the household they’ve spent their life in.

Director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland”) does his best work yet, much of which was shot in China.

Abdalla doesn’t make the passive adult Amir very interesting, but his performance suits the character, and the people around him make up for his lack as they reflect the diversity of Afghans, good and bad. The children are extraordinary, including Ali Danesh Bakhtyari, who figures in the film’s final portion.

The dialogue moves back and forth between English and Dari, the Afghan dialect of Farsi. I’d guess at least 60 percent requires subtitles. Our immersion in the foreign culture is complete, but there’s little that can’t be understood by the most ignorant viewer.

“The Kite Runner” shows the resilience of some friendships over time and adversity and the resilience of some people under crushing political regimes. The personal story can be universally appreciated while its larger context will contribute to international understanding. This is simply one of the year’s best pictures.

Child actors threatened

“The Kite Runner” includes a 30-second scene depicting the rape of a boy, played by a 12-year-old Afghan, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada. Word of the rape scene triggered threats of violence against the three Afghan child actors who appear in the film.

Paramount agreed to delay the film’s release until the kids were safely out of Afghanistan. The studio recently announced that the children and their guardians have been relocated to an unnamed city in the United Arab Emirates, clearing the way for the film’s release.



JUNO

In the spirit of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno” is about teen pregnancy.

Ellen Page plays 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, who is introduced going into a convenience store for her third pregnancy test of the day. Clerk Rainn Wilson tells her, “Your eggo is preggo.”

I’d better warn you that everybody talks like this. The dialogue verges on cleverness overload but wit and originality prevail. The terrific screenplay by former stripper Diablo Cody brilliantly dances through minefields, after planting most of the mines itself.

When Juno decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption, her friend Leah finds ads from childless couples in the PennySaver. Juno rejects “wholesome” parents in favor of “something edgier,” like “a couple of nice Lesbos.”

Juno finds Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), a well-off couple, and bonds with Mark over a love of music. At first, Vanessa comes across as an uptight bee-otch, but a chance meeting at the mall makes Juno realize she’ll be a good mother.

“Juno” has nothing but quality in common with director Jason Reitman’s debut film, “Thank You for Smoking.”

The “Juno” lingo (“pork swords”?) is going to spread, and it will be interesting to see which catch phrases emerge to become part of the lexicon. There are far too many possibilities to absorb in one sitting.

Grade: B+

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 14, 2007

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