Two boys, one injured by a land mine in Kabul and the other suffering from a congenital heart condition in a refugee camp near Khartoum, form the dual focus of Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Paolo Santolini’s finely crafted docu, “Back Home Tomorrow.” The boys are linked only by Emergency, the Italian NGO whose worldwide facilities provide free medical care to civilian victims of war. Downplaying heavy drama to capture the rhythms of adaptation and survival, this artfully lensed and edited film, well received on the fest circuit, could parlay the adorableness of its 7-year-old Afghan protagonist into niche or (more likely) tube play.
Virtually all the Kabul scenes transpire within the hospital, whose quiet efficiency reps a stark contrast to the chaos of the streets. But for Murtaza, the smallest of the children’s ward’s land-mine casualties, the compound offers a variegated, self-contained universe. The filmmakers, eschewing all narration, chart the hospital’s inner workings through Murtaza’s childlike curiosity, taking him from the fevered activity of new arrivals to the tranquility of the courtyard’s extensive gardens.
Indeed, the Kabul section traces an improbably complex process of socialization as the young patients, linguistically and ethnically different, fight, comfort each other, compete in wheelchair races, fly kites and happily exchange particulars of their respective injuries.
The Khartoum section, meanwhile, takes place at the desolate Mayo refugee camp. Yagoub is a stoic, philosophical teen whose heart condition pointedly excludes him from his all-important studies, as well as from athletics. Since his mother, even with the help of willing fellow refugees from Darfur, cannot afford the surgery required for her son’s survival, she must wait for a proposed Emergency-run cardiac hospital to be built. More incredible than any operation is the rapid transformation of mud-brick and mortar into a gleaming white, state-of-the-art medical facility.
Once inside the brand new, almost empty hospital, despite the support of kinsmen and friends, Yagoub’s isolation continues, his operation triggering unforeseen complications that slow his recovery.
Pic’s strength lies in helmers’ magnificent cinematography and in Clelio Benevento’s organic intercutting between Kabul and Khartoum; pic slips almost imperceptibly from one place to another without apparent contrast, seamlessly adjusting to the contrasting tempos of each culture. Massimo Nunzi’s undistinguished score sounds the film’s sole discordant note.