The Kite Runner

Starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada

Directed by Marc Forster

Rated PG-13

The Kite Runner is a beautiful film about human ugliness and moving to a new and joyful place that’s all the more meaningful for being so hard won.

So modern and enlightened in its portrait of progressiveness, it’s so wonderfully traditional in its embrace of the power of love and friendship. So rapturous in its depiction of merriment, it’s so harsh in its illustration of secret humiliation.

How often does a single movie seem to capture the very essence of what it means to be alive and imperfect in so simple a story? This is one of the very best films of 2007, and one that perfectly puts a stamp on our confusing and distressful times.

Kabul in 1978 is a vibrant city, alive with human endeavor. The Taliban have yet to come, though the revolution is on the horizon. Young pals Amir and Hassan know nothing of it. They spend their days going to the cinema and flying their kites over the city’s rooftops.

Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, as Amir and Hassan, respectively, are fresh and unrestrained and as uninhibited and full of boyish secrets as little boys are. So we believe that Amir, the son of a rich man, and Hassan, the son of that rich man’s servant, could be so sublimely suited to each other — they exude a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn vibe that knows no cultural boundaries. Then comes the rape of a child.

Hassan is attacked by a gang of teenage boys, and though the scene is not graphic, there is no doubt what is happening, partly because we see it through the eyes of Amir, who does nothing to stop the assault, though he clearly could have.

Anyone familiar with Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, the basis for this movie, will already be aware of this pivotal event, but the violence perpetrated upon Hassan is in itself not a subject of great suspense.

It becomes, instead, a hideous metaphor for Afghanistan as a nation. This is not a point the film makes explicitly. But it’s what moves the story beyond its simple though highly effective melodrama about aching regret and terrible memories into an arena more pertinent to what’s happening in the world today.

I’m talking about the systematic attempts to close down expressiveness in the Middle East — “They don’t let you be human,” one observer notes of the Taliban. I’m also talking about the surveillance culture we Westerners are living in, where abstinence is held up as an ideal but innocence does not exonerate the accused.

The Kite Runner is about Amir as a teenager, when he and his father flee the coming of the Taliban, as an adult (now played by the Scottish-by-birth Khalid Abdalla), as a 30-something writer living in San Francisco at the very beginning of the 21st century (and notably just before Sept. 11).

A phone call from the old country rocks him, churns up the past, and sends him on a trip home that opens his eyes to what has happened to his homeland ­— and what has happened to him after witnessing his friend’s rape.

It’s like a horror story, in some ways, this last act of the film. It takes us to the landscape, both actual and metaphoric. Afghanistan today looks like Mars, its rolling hills denuded of every tree, and its people stripped of their hearts and souls.

Amir seems a shell of a man, but for all that he appears pretty happy. The Kite Runner is about finding a way back to a place where he can fly a kite again.

It’s all as simple, and as profound, as that.

Movie Trailer