‘Kite Runner’ Soars at Smith Opera House

With its universal themes of honor and redemption, the big-screen version of Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed 2003 novel, “The Kite Runner,” about the doomed friendship of two Afghan boys, is not only faithful to the book but enhances the narrative with resonant visuals. Exceptional and enthralling, it will be screened at 7 p.m., March 14, 15, 17, and 18 at the Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca St.Both the book and the film tell the decade- and globe-spanning story of Amir, an Afghan-born novelist who fled to the United States as a boy following the Soviet invasion of his homeland. The first half of the movie is an extended flashback to his happy childhood in Kabul, where he and his best friend Hassan (who also happens to his servant) spend their days indulging in their favorite pastime: kite fighting. A contest that involves slicing through the opponent’s string, the losing kite is then claimed by the first child to chase it down — Hassan has an uncanny knack of knowing exactly where the kite will fall. An only child whose widowed father is a respected but emotionally distant intellectual, young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) looks to Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) to provide the warmth and love he doesn’t receive at home, and the eternally loyal Hassan is more than happy to oblige, listening to his buddy’s stories and defending him against local bullies.Their friendship undergoes a profound shift, however, when one of their regular tormenters corners Hassan and rapes him, while Amir watches from the shadows, too frightened to come to his aid. Guilt-ridden over his inaction, he takes his frustration and shame out on Hassan, even conspiring to have the boy kicked out of his house. Not long after, Amir himself is forced to flee when Russian soldiers march through the streets of Kabul. Following a harrowing escape into Pakistan, he and his father (Homayoun Ershadi) end up in San Francisco, where they become part of a sizeable community of Afghan refugees who meet every weekend at a local flea market. It’s here that a now grown Amir (played by “United 93’s” Khalid Abdalla) catches a glimpse of his future wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni), who is immediately drawn to the quiet man with intense eyes and heartbreaking stories.At this point, the narrative shifts into the present tense. On the eve of his first book’s publication, Amir receives a phone call from one of his father’s friends asking him to return to the country of his birth. It seems that Hassan survived the invasion, only to be executed by the Taliban, which seized power after the Russians left. But Hassan had a son, Sohrab, who was taken to an orphanage and hasn’t been seen since. Although he’s initially reluctant to embark on a rescue mission, Amir is compelled to return to Kabul after learning a long-kept secret about his exact relationship to his childhood friend. Sensitively directed by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland,” “Stranger Than Fiction”), the saga provides an especially good opportunity to see Middle Eastern actors in roles well away from the current standards of villainy. Here, they’re in a story of character and emotion universal in its depiction of humanity that, in its thematic construction, gives the impression of a memoire. Its lack of a religious agenda in a middle east context is both refreshing and a noteworthy commitment to the unburdened language of art.In a finely measured way, Abdalla expresses the self-doubts and internal mortification of a man whose memories dredge up only deep scars of shame. Ershadi shows us a man of complexity, honor and stand-up courage without a hint of stereotyping. His intelligent good/bad-balanced character portrait brings to mind the qualities of a mature Omar Sharif.Special mention goes to the two first-time actors, Ebrahimi and Mahmidzada, who debut with energetic poise and sustained appeal under Forster’s guidance. Also to Alberto Iglesias for his Oscar-nominated score that is, for its own qualities as well as for the film’s benefit, mesmerizing and diverse.Forster’s film is a rare canvas among Hollywood studio productions. It is an exemplary piece of storytelling ripped quite beautifully from Hosseini’s famous book. But what distinguishes the film is a backdrop of raw and ruinous cultural events. Amir’s falling-out with Hassan is silhouetted against Afghanistan’s shocking slide into chaos. Kabul in 1978 is a thriving metropolis where privileged and upstanding men of honour such as Amir’s father can drink whisky and talk freely.When the grown-up Amir returns to the capital in 2000 to atone for his past, the country is a splintered mess: sacked by the Soviets and driven into the dirt by the Taliban. The last harrowing half of the film is a grim and hair-raising thriller with public stonings, amputees who sell their crutches for scraps, and ghastly orphanages routinely sourced for sex by the Taliban.Class distinctions, brotherhood, tradition and pride take turns as elemental ingredients of the finely crafted drama, but what you’re most likely to take away from it, and find most memorable, is the level of emotion contained in the story of a man facing his demon and seizing the chance to rebuild his character and restore his self-respect. It’s a difficult journey, strewn with rocks and road ruts, but you know it when you get there — absolution for past errors in judgement.”The Kite Runner” is a beautiful film about human ugliness — spinelessness, small-mindedness, selfishness, and shame — and the possibility of moving beyond it all to a new place of joy, one that’s all the more meaningful for being so hard won. Modern and enlightened in its portrait of progressiveness, it is wonderfully traditional in its embrace of the power of love and friendship. So rapturous in its depiction of merriment, it is so intently harsh in its illustration of humiliation. How often does a movie capture the very essence of what it means to be alive and aware and imperfect in so simple a story?A lyrical and understated portrait of life’s journey come full circle within the context of the immigrant experience, “The Kite Runner” is rated PG-13 and has a running time of two hours, seven minutes. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Call 315-781-LIVE (5483) or toll-free 866-355-LIVE (5483) for details or to order tickets. Tickets may also be purchased on-line at www.TheSmith.org.The Smith Opera House is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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