Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kite Runner, the Movie

I got to see a sneak preview of “The Kite Runner” with 150 kids from my daughter’s high school. We all walked up Bancroft Avenue in Berkeley to the Pacific Film Archive, a process that took about a half an hour and crowded the city streets.

The kids were all from Berkeley High’s International High School and they had just finished reading The Kite Runner. With the book fresh in their minds, they turned out to be harsh critics of the film.

I would say the film is a lot like the book: Manipulative, predictable, but it pulls your heart strings. The acting is very good, especially Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, the two boys who play Amir and Hassan, the central protagonists in the book. They are sweet and innocent in the film and effectively convey a friendship that crosses class boundaries. (Amir is a Pashtun, a Sunni Muslim and Hassan is Hazara, lower class and a Shia Muslim). The man who play Amir’s father, Hamayoun Ershad and Shaun Toub, who plays his friend, Rahim Kahn, are also very good.

It’s the script that feels forced. I winced at the opening scene where Amir, a grown up, gets two cartoons of his newly published book delivered to his home. He opens the book and the dialogue with his wife is so stilted it’s ridiculous. The script is written by David Benioff, who wrote the fabulous 25 Hours. This is not one of his best efforts.

But the central core of the story – the destruction of Afghanistan and the downfall of a proud civilization – is very moving. Afghanistan was a beautiful, vibrant country until the Soviet invasion, at least according to the film. The Soviets destroyed the place and the Taliban finished it off. (There is no mention of the time in between when the war lords were engaged in a bitter, violent, civil war.)

The high school kids disliked the film for all the parts of the book it left out. In the book, Hassan has a hare lip and his father is disfigured and the gap between the ruling and lower classes in Afghanistan is much clearer. In the film, the small Hassan is adorable and seemingly as educated as Amir. In the book, another central figure tries to commit suicide. There is no mention of that in the film.

The actors in the film mostly speak Dari, a dialect of Persian, and it will be interesting to note audiences reaction to a film with so many subtitles. It was great for a group of high school students in a program that emphasizes internationalism, however.

Another pleasure of this film is seeing all this terrific Middle Eastern actors. Where have they been? They were uniformly engaging. I couldn’t keep my eyes off Atossa Leoni, who plays Amir’s wife. Khalid Abdalla, who plays the grown up Amir, also was terrific. These actors deserve to be cast much more frequently, not just relegated to ethnic roles. We live in such a multi cultural world. Let’s see a better reflection of our world up on the big screen.


Tracey said...

It's good to have you back Frances. I want to see this movie as well as Atonement even though they have both had so-so reviews. It's a tough call putting a book onto the screen. (BTW the Afghan scenes in the Kite Runner were shot in China I believe.)

Mary said...

pls... Afghans and Iranians are NOT Arabs. only Khalid Abdalla, the actor who plays the adult Amir in the movie, is Egyptian, who can be classified under Arab