The brutal rule of the Taliban still casts a pall over most Westerners' perception of Afghanistan. That Tarique Qayumi's new film masterfully recognizes a richer and vastly more complicated history is more than enough to strongly recommend it. But what really makes Black Kite shine is the manner in which the filmmakers have dramatized seismic political shifts.
Black Kite examines the impact of history on one family: how they at once quietly defy it and get swept up in it. The film opens with some beautifully assembled archivalfootage detailing Zahir Shah's attempts to modernize the country, including mandating public education for children. Arian, the son of a kite maker (kiting is a long-time national sport), will be the first in his family to attend school. But Arian is a daydreamer and spends far more time thinking about making kites with his father than studying. As the years speed past, reforms are repealed and governments grow increasingly oppressive until Arian's obsession is finally outlawed.
Attempting to lift the spirits of his young daughter Seema, Arian (played as an adult by Haji Gul, one of the country's most revered actors) tells her a parable about kites. After much pleading, he finally agrees to let Seema try it (prior to the ban it was usually restricted to men) but only when the moonlight is faintest.
The pair's clandestine hobby soon becomes a kind of resistance, culminating in a bravura and magical sequence. Charged with some fine performances, poignant details, and impassioned neorealist storytelling, Black Kite is a well-timed reminder that resistance begins at home.