Aboozar Amini’s film – which he wrote, directed and lensed – is a remarkable portrait on the lives of unremarkable people living in a country whose name evokes warfare and hardship.
Kabul, City in the Wind lives up to its name where the dry, dusty wind of Afghanistan is an ever-present subtext, even as children bang rocks on the rusting Soviet tanks that still litter the capital’s streets, or for poor driver Abbas who endlessly struggles to fix his ailing bus.
A lyrical work that allows the film’s protagonists to speak for themselves, Amini’s hand-held camera follows the endearing adventures of a policeman’s three sons and the more anguished existence of Abbas.
If there is frequent talk in the bus station canteen among the drivers and ticket collectors of the latest suicide bomb and the numbers killed, the «war on terror» is a distant thing, off camera and only once heard as a far-away bomb blast.
Beautiful, proud, troubled
Amin’s intent, in a film made with the support of the Busan Film Festival, is to show that life goes on and to reveal to an international audience something of a harshly beautiful, proud and troubled country.
In Abbas, the director finds a perfect philosopher.
Handsome and unaffected – a dusty, weather-beaten version of cricketer turned Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan – Abbas may be illiterate but is poetic in his understanding of the human condition.
In a series of grainy close-ups of his key characters – where the image on screen is Rembrandt-esque in its intensity – Amin teases out their inner truth.
If you put together Abbas’ pithy statements you could almost have a series of Shakespearean soliloquies:
«When I look back on my life, I’ve had only 10% peace.»
«I’ve fought to survive non-stop.»
«All kinds of jobs – selling fruit, sweets, shoe shine.»
«Since I began working, 30 years of my life has been wasted on problems and survival.»
«I think I won’t live much more than another 10 or 15 years.»
It’s not all as bleak as Abbas claims; he has a dutiful wife and three happy children living in a small house hidden behind a mud brick wall down a clean and tidy city centre street.
But the lie he told to avoid paying the first of three big installments on his 3,000 Euro second-hand bus will prove his undoing and he is, characteristically, honest when it comes to the crunch.
Kabul, City in the Wind lives up to its name with an evocative soundtrack where the dry, dusty wind of Afghanistan is an ever-present subtext
«I soon understood that honesty won’t work in Afghanistan. So I decided to not to be honest, once, and now I am in even deeper misery. None of my plans and tricks worked. I lost my bus and my work.»
A different struggle
For the policeman’s children, life presents a different struggle.
Their father is in a distant city on the front lines of the struggle against the Taliban; their mother is an unseen presence inside their hillside house, overlooking the vast, ancient dusty mountain-rimmed bowl that contains Kabul.
The eldest boy – a lad of around 13, is seen with his two little brothers in tow (though usually the littlest is left behind at home, howling at the offense of being the little one). His father – who survived a suicide bombing when he was in the military, an explosion that claimed the life of his closest friend – has told the lad he is head of the family in his absence, and his life of minor chores is what occupies Amin in this part of the story.
The conflict is never far away and both Abbas and the boys have hidden fears, revealed in dreams they relay and when questioned about them.
One of the little lads sings a ditty to himself: «Yellow kitty don’t go to war, you’ll die,» and the men in the bus station check their mobile phone for news of the latest bombing, resigned to what fate may bring them: «We don’t know when our time will come.»
it leaves a delicate imprint of a place where people live and love, even if we only ever hear of its death and hatred.
Amin’s film offers no solutions to Afghanistan’s interminable conflict and poses questions that all of us may ask of ourselves: what are our lives about? What are our hopes and fears? How can we contribute to our world?
There are no answers in this quiet and sometimes dreamlike film, nothing startling or immensely moving. But it leaves a delicate imprint of a place where people live and love, even if we only ever hear of its death and hatred.