Blowing in the Wind

Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel "The Kite Runner" introduced Western readers to an Afghanistan beyond the Soviet invasion, Osama bin Laden and U.S. military strikes. By focusing on the complicated relationship between an Afghan boy and his father, and the bond between two childhood friends in Kabul, it illuminated the humanity behind the politics and showed the world that Afghans laugh as well as cry. The book has since sold more than 8 million copies worldwide—not including millions of bootleg editions in such languages as Farsi.

This week the long-awaited screen adaptation of "The Kite Runner" opens in America; it will be released across much of the rest of the world over the next few months. The film, like the book, follows the unlikely friendship between the wealthy Pashtun boy Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) and his friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the Hazara son of the family servant. Pashtuns are Sunni and make up Afghanistan's ruling party, while the Hazara, Shia Muslims of Mongolian descent, are largely discriminated against. The two boys are inseparable until one day, following their victory in a kite-fighting tournament, Amir betrays the loyal Hassan with an act of cowardice that haunts them for the next three decades. Their story of love, remorse and atonement is set against the 1979 Soviet invasion, the Afghan diaspora and the rise of the Taliban in Kabul.

"The Kite Runner" is a moving, smart and sensitive film and a worthy tribute to the book. The kite-flying scenes are so beautifully shot they're near spiritual, while the story's emotional appeal renders cultural boundaries obsolete. Though one of the few major pictures to consider Islam and the Muslim-American experience from an insider's perspective, the film remains highly accessible, moving between the Muslim world and the West with an ease unparalleled in Hollywood.

This cross-cultural fluency likely comes from the fact that "The Kite Runner" is, in every sense, a global film. The closing credits read like a U.N. roster of delegates. Hosseini is Afghan and lives in America, director Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland") is Swiss and lives in America, and lead actor Khalid Abdalla ("United 93") is Egyptian and resides in the U.K. The film also stars noted Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi, as well as first-timers like Ebrahimi who were plucked out of secondary schools.

Originally slated for a fall release, "The Kite Runner" was delayed because of controversy surrounding a grueling rape scene involving the child actors. Due to the scene's potential to offend, Afghan authorities and the film's studio, Paramount Vantage, pushed the release back until the boys finished school and were safely out of the country. They and their families now reside in the United Arab Emirates.