×

Film Review: ‘Black Kite’

Five decades of political turmoil in Afghanistan are seen through the eyes of a hapless kite maker, the middle generation of a doomed dynasty.

Director:
Tarique Qayumi
With:
Haji Gul, Hamid Noorzay, Masoud Fanayee, Leena Alam, Hadi Delsoz, Sin Mim Alavi, Zahra Nasim, Kaka Nabi, Sameer Nasim. (Dari dialogue)

1 hour 28 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6098208/?ref_=nv_sr_1

The low-budget, indie drama “Black Kite” charts five decades of political turmoil in Afghanistan through the eyes of a hapless kite maker, the middle generation of a sadly doomed dynasty. More well-intentioned than accomplished, this second feature from Kabul-born, Canadian helmer Tarique Qayumi suffers in comparison to “The Kite Runner,” Marc Foster’s richly detailed screen translation of Khaled Hosseini’s beloved bestseller. But despite its shortcomings of script and performance, the film has a certain middlebrow festival appeal, considering its exotic locations and winsome child players. Certainly, multihyphenate Qayumi deserves credit for his deft use of archival footage and animation, which provide useful context and historical background.

The heavy-handed opening moments are a bit of a turn-off, and work against audience identification, as we see that things won’t end well for the film’s protagonist, Arian (sober Haji Gul, who can’t make his ingenuous character credible). Bloody and bowed, he is sentenced to death by a Taliban leader for the crime of kite flying. Just how he arrives at this sorry state is revealed as he shares his life story with a brutish cellmate (Sin Mim Alavi), while lying in a dirty prison awaiting execution.

As Arian speaks, Qayumi uses choice archival footage to show the forward-looking Afghanistan of the protagonist’s 1960s youth; it’s the the era of the country’s last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who made education compulsory for children. We see clips of unveiled, high-heeled, mini-skirted women out and about town and working at important jobs, traditional musicians playing concerts, and even a high-end fashion show — scenes likely to astonish those whose only image of the beleaguered country is the death and destruction wrought by the Taliban.

Flashbacks proper start with the youthful Arian (twinkle-eyed tyke Hamid Noorzay) observing his father (Hadi Delsoz), an illiterate Kabuli kite maker, and absorbing the art and craft behind what was arguably Afghanistan’s favorite sport. Simple 2D animation by Kunal Sen aims to capture the freedom and excitement the lad feels as his father’s colorful creations soar and dip in the sky, dancing on the wind.

Although Arian looks like a bright boy, Qayumi makes him a hopeless dreamer, unable to focus on his teacher or his lessons, since his attention remains riveted to the kites in the sky. Here, the dialogue proves a bit too on-the-nose as the boy is told, “These kites will be the ruin of you”; and that basically is the screenplay in a nutshell. If only Arian’s interest in kite flying were portrayed as something more than a simple fatal obsession he would be more interesting and sympathetic. But instead he’s a one-note character.

As an adolescent (played by Masoud Fanayee), Arian, despite years of schooling, fails to earn a diploma, although his proud father believes that he graduated. His full entry into the family business coincides with the Soviet invasion, when his father, too, falls victim to an unwillingness to give up his kite though the situation warrants it. Years pass, and although Arian seems to do nothing but fly his colorful paper creations, his women folk still manage to marry him to the beautiful Jameela (Leena Alam).

As the front line of the war enters Kabul, and the Taliban terrorizes the locals (shown in shocking newsreel clips) Arian’s mother and sister prove imminently sensible and flee to Pakistan, leaving the family’s attic abode to Arian, Jameela and their newborn, Seema. Eventually, perhaps predictably, more tragedy strikes, leaving Seema (the adorably demanding Zahra Nasim) to become drawn to the family obsession.

On the plus side, Qayumi’s guerilla-style shooting on actual Kabul locations lends visual élan and authenticity to the story. Likewise, some of the production designs of his multi hyphenate partner, Tajana Prka, prove memorable: in particular, the illegal stash of colorful kites hanging from floor to ceiling in Arian’s home. Less commendable, however, is the overly insistent, sacharine score by Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar.

Film Review: 'Black Kite'

Reviewed online, Berlin, Feb. 10, 2018. In Santa Barbara Film Festival (competing). (Also in Toronto Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Afghanistan) An Aquatinter Films Prod. Producer: Tajana Prka. Executive producers: Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo, Eng Latif Ahmadi. Co-producer: Sameer Nasim.

Crew: Director, writer: Tarique Qayumi. Camera (color, HD): Qayumi. Editors: Qayumi, Dajana Prka. Music: Benedict Taylor, Naren Chandavarkar

With: Haji Gul, Hamid Noorzay, Masoud Fanayee, Leena Alam, Hadi Delsoz, Sin Mim Alavi, Zahra Nasim, Kaka Nabi, Sameer Nasim. (Dari dialogue)

More Film

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy to Star in 'Louis Wain'

    Benedict Cumberbatch (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) are set to star in “Louis Wain,” a biopic of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. “Louis Wain” will start shooting on Aug. 10 with BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (“Flowers”) directing the film, which was written by Sharpe [...]

  • Production Resumes on 'Fast & Furious

    'Fast & Furious 9' Production Resumes, Investigation Into Stuntman Injury Under Way

    Production resumed Tuesday on “Fast & Furious 9,” a day after an accident at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, near London, left a stuntman in hospital. The U.K. agency responsible for workplace safety confirmed that it is now investigating the accident. The stuntman, Joe Watts, was working on a second unit when he sustained head injuries [...]

  • mother

    Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese: Africa Is ‘In the Process of Becoming’

    DURBAN–From the arresting opening sequence, in which the reflection of a woman carrying a giant wooden cross shimmers across the surface of a lake, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s “Mother, I Am Suffocating. This is My Last Film About You” embarks on a poetic journey across an unnamed African landscape. Described by the filmmaker as a “lament,” [...]

  • Promise at Dawn Calcoa

    Colcoa French Film Festival Moves to the Fall With Revamped Format

    Colcoa, the Los Angeles-based French film festival, will be hosting its 23rd edition in September, right before the start of the awards season. Created by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, Colcoa will also be showcasing a more contained lineup focused on film and TV at the Directors Guild of America’s newly-renovated venue. The festival was previously [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen-Codirected 'Western Stars' Film Will Premiere in Toronto

    “Western Stars,” the film that Bruce Springsteen has made to accompany his recent album of the same name, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was announced Tuesday. The feature is being listed as a co-directing project between Springsteen and his longtime filmic collaborator, Thom Zimny, who just picked up [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone and Braden Aftergood Balboa

    Sylvester Stallone's Production Company Wants to Be the Blumhouse of Action Films

    “I don’t believe Sylvester Stallone carries around a wallet,” says Braden Aftergood, the executive in charge of scripted development at the movie star’s content company Balboa Prods. It’s not that Sly, as he’s known to friends and fans alike, is trying to duck out on a dinner bill. He never seems to have his license [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content