A Kabuli taxi driver’s discovery of a swaddled infant in the backseat of his cab ignites a series of seriocomic reactions that paint a complex portrait of the cabbie, his city and his culture in "Kabuli Kid," Afghan helmer Barmak Akram’s first foray into fiction.

A Kabuli taxi driver’s discovery of a swaddled infant in the backseat of his cab ignites a series of seriocomic reactions that paint a complex portrait of the cabbie, his city and his culture in “Kabuli Kid,” Afghan helmer Barmak Akram’s first foray into fiction. Narrative adroitly charts Afghanistan’s long-standing legacy of war, evidenced by the rubble, curfews and ubiquitous American tanks, but also visible in the increasingly erratic behavior of the basically sane cab driver as he tries tryingto juggle yet another impossibly absurd situation. This engaging, funny and quietly disturbing vision of a nation much in the news seems a good bet for distribution.

Once the disbelieving Khaled (Hadji Gul) comprehends that his last fare did not leave her baby son in his cab by mistake, he begins to panic. When he fails to fob the foundling off on an orphanage or the police, Khaled resignedly brings the baby home, setting off all manner of expectations among his wife (Helena Alam) and four daughters. Indeed, he himself wants nothing more than to sire a male child.

Urged by friends and family to keep the boy, Khaled, though torn, becomes increasingly desperate to unload it, even trying to abandon it in a colleague’s cab, in a sequence as ludicrous as it is disquieting. A chance meeting with a French couple (Amelie Glenn, Valery Shatz) leads to a radio entreaty to the child’s mother, and soon there are four burka-sporting claimants to the title.

France-based helmer Akram fashioned his script with the help of Jean-Claude Carriere, and the plot adroitly plunges the viewer into situational dynamics that only gradually reveal themselves in all their ethnological complexity. At first, Khaled registers a stereotypical Arab patriarch. Though quick to chastise a female passenger for still wearing a burka, Khaled makes sure his wife doesn’t leave home without one. With his daughters, though not unkind, he appears distant and authoritarian.

Yet when his educated father chastises him for not finishing his studies, he somewhat resentfully recalls that he was forced to marry his brother’s widow. This disclosure throws a completely new light on the character and the way he relates to his job, his family and the latest responsibility dumped in his lap. The use of non-professional thesps adds an extra layer of truth to the characters and their motivations.

Akram’s documentarian background informs the lively exchanges between the cab drivers and shapes the maze of peddlers, pedestrians, automobiles, donkey carts, armored cars and assorted livestock that fill the city streets, mapping out the noisy, crowded terrain through which our hero must daily navigate.

Observation and narrative are so skillfully intertwined that every detail gestates a potential full-blown story and every story point teems with cultural contradictions. Thus, when Khaled’s wife slips among the veiled women waiting to claim the infant, she silently unleashes a subversively alternate point of view.

Highly accomplished tech credits reinforce pic’s authenticity.

Kabuli Kid

Afghanistan

Production

A Fidelite Films production, in association with 4 a 4 Films, Les Auteurs Associes, Afghan Film, Canal Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier. Co-producers, Mani Mortazzavi, David Mathieu Mahias, Philippe Gautier. Directed, written by Barmak Akram.

Crew

Camera (color), Laurent Fleutot; editors, Herve de Luze, Pierre Haberer, Elise Fievet; music, Akram; production design, Mohamed Yousef Ghouchan; costume designer, Mohammed Chafi Sahel; sound (Dolby Digital), Pascal Villard. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics’ Week), Sept. 1, 2008. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Hadji Gul, Valery Shatz, Amelie Glenn, Mohammad Chafi Sahel, Helena Alam. (Farsi, French dialogue)

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