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The Kite Runner (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Kite Runner (DVD)
Advantages: Great adaptation of the book
Disadvantages: Some may find it dull and/or distressing
Amir and Hassan grew up together in seventies Kabul. Despite the fact that their backgrounds are very different - Amir is the son of a wealthy man, whereas Hassan is the son of a servant and of another race - they are very close; so close that Hassan will do anything for Amir. Unfortunately, the relationship does not work so well the other way, and when Hassan is attacked and raped by some older boys one day, Amir stands by and lets it happen. Then the Soviet invasion of Kabul happens and Amir and his father escape, eventually finding their way to America. After many years, when Amir is beginning to make his name as a writer, he hears from an old family friend who tells him that Hassan is dead - but his son, Sohrab, is still in Kabul. Can Amir track the boy down before it is too late, thus repaying the debt he feels he owes his dead friend?
This film is based on the book of the same name by Khaled Hosseini, a book that I have read an enjoyed. It was therefore with some trepidation that I watched the film - it is rare that a book to film adaptation is completely satisfying and I was worried that I would be disappointed. For once, I was wrong. There are most definitely some chunks of the story that are missing - it would be impossible to fit everything into a two hour film - but on the whole, it is a very faithful adaptation. So much so, in fact, that I felt as if the characters I was watching were old friends, something that I don't think I've ever experienced before. For once, I don't think it matters whether the book or the film come first, both are equally worth reading/watching.
The casting was spot on as far as I'm concerned. The boys playing the young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) were excellent. I particularly liked the latter - his glances of adoration when he looked at Amir were spot on. However, Ebrahimi was also great as Amir, showing the jealousy that he felt for Hassan, because his father admired Hassan more than Amir. The older Amir was exactly as I imagined him. Perhaps it was the grief of his betrayal of Hassan and the dangerous journey from Kabul to the US, but his older self is much more humble, and this is well portrayed by Khalid Abdalla. The actor really comes into his own towards the end of the film when he gives a wonderfully emotive performance that had me sitting on the edge of my seat and then sobbing, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.
I think my favourite performance, however, was from Homayoun Ershadi, who plays Amir's father, referred to as Baba. At the beginning of the film, he is a relatively young, virile man, used to getting exactly what he wants and enjoying respect from all those around him. When he reaches America, he is forced to take a job in a petrol station and live life through his son. This process obviously isn't covered as thoroughly as in the book, but the actor makes up for that with the hunch in the shoulders, the resigned looks, and I thought he was brilliant. It really made me think about the fate of immigrants and the life they have left behind them. Much has been made of Shaun Taub, who plays a friend of Baba, perhaps because he is a more seasoned actor in the West. He is good, but his on screen time is a matter of minutes, so for me, it was Homayoun Ershadi that shone.
I was absolutely thrilled to find out that the film wasn't actually made in Afghanistan, but in the North West of China where the population is largely Muslim - thrilled because I have been to many of the locations in question, including Kashgar. Even before I knew the filming location, I was reminded of my time travelling in Xinjiang - everywhere seems very dry, dirty and sandy with hotch potch buildings (except for Amir's home). It was exactly as I had imagined it from the book and I think that the director and everyone else involved did a superb job of finding the best possible location, considering filming in Afghanistan presumably wasn't an option. Some of the shots of the escape from Afghanistan and Amir's later return via Pakistan are really stunning - wide open spaces with mountains in the background.
The kite plays an important part in the film, as it does in the book. Kite flying was banned by the Taliban, so it represents a freer time, when the boys were young and able to play more or less as they wished. It also represents the freedom of the US, where Amir is able to fly a kite once more. From a visual point of view, it provides a very attractive symbol and, during the early days in Afghanistan at least, is a veritable splash of colour against an otherwise dull background.
This isn't really a happy film, and it can be downright disturbing at times. The rape scene itself, when Hassan is attacked by an older boy, is downplayed, but the shots of him staggering away afterwards trailing droplets of blood is upsetting. Then the older Amir is viciously attacked by a Taliban official on his return to Afghanistan - this is incredibly violent and left a big impression on me (and this is coming from someone who watches horror films for fun). There is an overall atmosphere of menace when Amir returns to Afghanistan and it is quite disturbing, so it is definitely not a film for those wanting something light-hearted. Yet the classification is only 12A. However, I really cannot imagine many young people under 15 really wanting to watch it - it is something that I think will be best appreciated by those a little older with a wider understanding of the world. I should add here that there has been some controversy about the depiction of the Taliban in this film, with some claiming that they have been deliberately portrayed as violent and without morals - I simply don't know enough about the situation to comment either way.
Much of the film is subtitled because the main characters are speaking in Dari (a dialect of the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan). I didn't feel that it hindered the film in any way; the subtitles were always clear, although of course, I have no idea how accurate they were. It does mean, however, that a certain amount of concentration is needed to follow it, so it's definitely not a film for watching on a Friday night after a few glasses of wine. The music, by Alberto Iglesias, fits the film well - the ominous musical background to Amir's return to Afghanistan is extremely well suited, sounding both ethnic and contemporary, yet traditional at the same time. Iglesias is best known for his scores for Pedro Almodovar's films, but has also written scores for The Constant Gardener and Che. (Facts taken from Wikipedia).
There are a few special features with the DVD. Director Marc Foster, David Benioff, who wrote the screenplay and author Khaled Hosseini give an audio commentary, which I haven't listened to yet, but will do at some point. Then there is a feature entitled 'words from The Kite Runner', which is basically a series of scenes from the movie explained by Khaled Hosseini and Marc Foster. That is followed by a featurette on the visuals, including some shots of filming in Kashgar, which I really enjoyed. It also includes an insight into casting and why particular actors were chosen. Finally, there's a 'public service announcement' by Khaled Hosseini, who gives an introduction to the situation in Afghanistan and asks for donations to be made, and a trailer for the film. All in all, worth watching, especially the second featurette on the visuals.
I thought this film was excellent - it was all I had hoped for and more. Marc Foster has taken a great story and made it into a visually beautiful film that shocks and disturbs, but ultimately has a very real point to it - don't dwell on your wrongs, go out and redeem yourself. I think this is a film worth seeing, whether you have read the book or not. Just appreciate that it is not a barrel of laughs and if you want cheering up, this may not be the film for you. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 128 minutes
Summary: A faithful adaptation of a great book