Soâ€¦another movie featuring a cab driver. And a baby, which I totally did not intend to be a holdover from my last one-off blog post. Well, after last weekâ€™s happy-fest, it is time for a little bit of a more sober flick with Afghanistanâ€™s Kabuli Kid.
Khaled is a cab driver going about his rounds and generally complaining about the situation in his city and country. A woman and her baby boy get into his cab. Khaled makes an offhanded remark about the silliness of her chador and then muses that she is lucky to have a son, as he has five daughters. Yeah, Khaled is kind of a complex man, tending to speak as if he is a modern man except when it comes to his own family. In any case, the woman leaves and it is not until several minutes later that Khaled learns that she left her baby in the cab.
Refusing to face the likely possibility that the woman had abandoned her child, Khaled tries to drive back (with his current passenger still in the cab) to where he dropped her off, but she is nowhere to be found. He tries to drop off the baby with the police, but they will not take him. Desperate to avoid breaking the 5:00 curfew, he takes the baby home, though not before buying powdered milk and getting a soda bottle to make for a makeshift baby bottle.
Khaledâ€™s older daughters dote on the baby, as does his wife. I should note that they also have a baby daughter, whose basic role is looking at the baby boy. Now, why Khaled needed to go through all that trouble with the powdered milk and the soda bottle is unclear to me, but maybe making his wife breastfeed this boy would have been too much to ask of her and unhealthy for him anyways. In any case, we can see that Khaled is a little distant towards his family, including his father, who lives with them as well. It could be because the thought of a mother abandoning her baby is disturbing him too much, as is evident in his dreams that are all about that. Then again, it is pretty clear that his behavior towards his family goes beyond that.
The next day, Khaled tries to give the baby to an orphanage, but the person in charge (who had been pretending to do work when Khaled comes to see him) initially implies that Khaled is trying to give up his own child before stating that the orphanage does not take children under five-years-old. Well, that sounds stupid, but whatever. In desperation, Khaled tries to drop the baby off in someone elseâ€™s cab, but the other cab driver catches on. So, what is Khaled to do?
This is the type of movie that uses a story to show a larger world. While the story is about a guy trying to find a new home for an abandoned baby, it is really the story of modern Afghanistan. As a cab driver, Khaled sees all parts of Kabul and the people in it. He sees children selling wares on the streets. He sees soldiers everywhere. The curfew and infrastructure problems cast long shadows. There are bumps in the roads due to bombs from the war. The traffic is chaotic and sometimes at near-standstill due to everyone getting in each otherâ€™s way. While I did say that this movie is pretty serious, there is some humor to be mined by just how dysfunctional everything is. You sort of have to laugh or you will get depressed. This dysfunction is also present in Khaledâ€™s personality. His rather regressive attitude towards his family stands in contrast to his attempt to be forward thinking elsewhere. Even with his disbelief over the abandonment of the baby, he keeps thinking of reasons for her doing so. Yet, he will not even let one of his older daughters join him in managing his pigeons, saying that it is not for girls. Even his own father has no problem with her doing so.
Despite the supposed end of Taliban rule, some of the more conservative customs are still in place, such as wearing the chador. It becomes a plot point that pretty much the only thing that Khaled initially remembers about the mother is her blue chador because she had no identity other than that. There is one scene where his wife puts on a similar chador and, while it is implied that he recognizes her, it is not outright confirmed. Some have put forth the theory that the baby boy symbolizes an Afghanistan that no one really wants to deal with. Khaled always wanted a son, but not like this, and everyone else seems to come up with excuses to not take him. He is, of course, not the only baby to be abandoned, as the war had left many women without husbands and unable to take care of their children.
There is a strong implication that this movie is showing just one story of many, and not even the complete story, just one chapter. There is more that could be told about the baby and his mother. There is quite a bit of backstory about Khaled that could have been explored, as well as a conversation with a couple of his friends about the past that could have been stories of their own. Even a few small characters have lines that could be the basis of a story. And, of course, everyone on the street whose face we see for more than a few seconds seems to be doing something that could have at least made a short film. It is a city filled with stories, all of them worth telling. This movie just happened to deal with one story.
It must be said that this movie is not purely an Afghan film. There is some blatant foreign involvement in the film, such as the multiple French production companies that helped to make the film and the inclusion of two kindly French NGO workers. The portrayal of Kabul in the previous paragraph could be seen as an introduction to Afghanistan for foreign audiences like me. It is probably just as well, though. A lot of Afghan films have foreign involvement and those more purely local films that I have tried to watch are so hopelessly amateurish that I could not get through the first ten minutes. Of course, I have not seen that many so far, so I may change my opinion on this later on.
One thing that I particularly liked was the acting. It is not show-y at all. At times it does seem like it is just people reciting their lines, but that is just because they are talking. The emotion is sometimes downplayed or hidden by the characters themselves. Not everything needs to be a scene. There is that notion that some of the best acting can be done just with oneâ€™s eyes, but what if we cannot see oneâ€™s eyes? There are a couple of scenes where women are dressed in chadors that have their entire face covered, thus they have to rely only on what they say, how they say it, and what body language they are able to express. It is particularly important in a couple of scenes and I was pretty impressed with how it was pulled off.
I think that this is a movie about doing what one can in a place where there is not much one can do. Khaled does as much as he thinks that he can do, and a bit more at certain points. But he does not right the wrongs of the city or lift up the life of this baby or his own family. By the end of it, Kabul has not changed very much and it is not clear whether anyoneâ€™s life has changed very much either. Still, he did what he could do, even if it was not quite to the level of what he should have done. That is not really the makings of a happy movie, but I would say that it was quite worthwhile.
Next Time: Outrage (Japan: 2010, approx. 110 minutes)
Time After Next: Election (Hong Kong: 2005, approx. 100 minutes)