J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Opening Soon: Kite Runner

The events of Kite Runner are not real. It is a fictional motion picture. However, some in the Islamist world seem to have trouble distinguishing cinema from reality. While Kite Runner might not be “real,” it is most definitely realistic in its portrayal of the extremism and depravity of the Taliban regime, which might be the actual problem behind the recent controversies.

Opening December 14th, Kite Runner is a well crafted film (trailer here) based on the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini. A full review of the film as a work of cinema will go up then, but after screening the film, it raises some topical issues deserving separate attention. By now, concerns for the safety of Kite’s child stars, particularly Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, whose character is raped by an older boy (who happens to be an Islamist) have been widely reported. Again, this is a work of fiction. Even if the Islamic world has trouble telling fantasy from reality, one would think they would have compassion or the victim of a horrific attack. Evidently not.

Indeed, the film is willing to shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the blame-the-victim syndrome prevalent in Islamist regimes like that of the Taliban. Kite unflinchingly depicts the stoning to death of a burkha-clad woman for adultery. As a form of execution, it is both cruel and cowardly, inflicting gruesome pain, but not requiring any hands-on effort from the “men” performing this ritualized public murder. Kite actually seems to raise questions regarding the sexuality of the Taliban enforcers. In addition to their misogynistic enforcement of Sharia law, pedophilic predators are presented as another constant danger stemming from the mullahs in power.

Though the film graphically depicts the Taliban’s reign of terror, it does not let the Soviets off the hook either. In many ways, the father of the film’s protagonist serves as the film’s moral compass. Just before the Soviet invasion he complains to the effect that: “the Mullahs want to control our souls, while the Communists deny we have any.”

Indeed, Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi’s performance as “Baba,” Amir’s father, is one of two performances worthy of an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Shaun Toub’s touching turn as the close friend of the family, Rahim Khan, is the second. Actually parsing lead from supporting roles in Kite might prove difficult, as young Amir probably has just as much screen time as adult Amir. It really is an ensemble piece with the entire cast turning in fine work.

Kite is often intense, and it nicely handles the challenge of devoting its first half to an extended flashback. The now infamous assault scene is indeed horrifying, but not lurid. It is an emotionally engaging and frequently terrifying film that deserves serious consideration.

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