Afghanistan is the last place I’d expect to find a kid flying a kite. After watching Black Kite and seeing kites be such a prominent part of life, bringing a tiny bit of joy to those who are trapped in this war-torn land, it seems strange that I ever had a presumption on kites one way or the other. The smallest of assumptions, something taken for granted without basis, led me to think I knew more about another’s circumstances than I do. Being wrong about kites reminded me that I know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to live in Afghanistan! I have Black Kite’s writer/director Tarique Qayumi, a Canadian who came from Afghanistan as an eight-year old refugee, for brilliantly and effortlessly challenging my preconceptions.
Black Kite follows Arian (Haji Gul), an Afghan man who has been captured by the Taliban and convicted of the highest crime. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Arian came to be imprisoned and sentenced to death. Kites feature prominently in his story, from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood. There’s a remarkable contrast between the bright coloured kites and Arian’s drab, washed out existence, not only in the prison but throughout most of his life as Afghanistan is oppressed by one ruling body after another.
There are some absolutely beautiful shots of the desert and sky, and some very poignant animation that conveys a lot about what these kites represent: freedom, a means of expression and communication, and a marker of milestones in a man’s life, both good and bad.
Another assumption that Black Kite dispels is that freedom is free. Freedom is a foreign concept for Arian, not the inherent right that I treat it as. Arian and his family constantly live in fear, under the boot of one regime or another, with seemingly arbitrary rules that have the sole purpose of keeping them down. The rulers may change but the rules remain the same. So Arian and his compatriots are denied even the simplest pleasures. It hurts to experience these denials second hand, making the first-hand experience all the more difficult for my privileged mind to imagine.
Black Kite is a wonderful film and a timely one. It showed me how much can be stripped away from individuals, and reminded me that the little freedoms are as important as the big ones. If those little freedoms were preserved for all, this small world would be a much better place. There is no easy solution, but we should spend our energy searching for ways to help people less fortunate than us. Instead, we spend our time arguing over how many refugees we should accept from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, places where every day could be your last and little freedoms, like flying a kite, cannot ever be taken for granted.
By the way, the answer to how many refugees we should accept is: as many as we can fit. And we’ve got plenty of room.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage. Black Kite will begin its theatrical run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 1st