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Set on the eve of Soviet rule in her homeland, Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat’s poignant, realist portrait of a teen’s hardscrabble life in a state orphanage is wonderfully contrasted with her protagonist’s outlandish fantasies. Sadat lets these daydreams play out as wildly entertaining, over-the-top Bollywood sequences complete with gushy ballads and hilariously ropey action.
We first meet 15-year-old Quodrat (Qodratollah Qadiri) on the streets of Kabul scamming film fans by reselling used cinema tickets. Before long he is collared by the police and brought to a Soviet-run orphanage overseen by a kind-hearted administrator (Anwar Hashimi), but rife with bullying and petty theft.
Qodrat quickly befriends a motley crew including chess whizz Masihullah (Masihullah Feraji), Masihullah’s nephew Fayaz (Ahmad Fayaz Omani), who is two years older than his uncle, and the war-obsessed Hasib (Hasibullah Rasooli). Sadat follows the boys through a picaresque series of adventures, including power struggles with the orphanage’s resident bullies, the discovery of an abandoned Soviet tank and a field trip to Moscow. Meanwhile, war is raging beyond the walls of the orphanage and change is rapidly approaching. — MM
“A grainy look makes the film feel like it was actually made in the 80s, adding to its historical authenticity. When, at the end, the orphanage risks tumbling along with the Soviet regime, you’re left with the harrowing feeling that for Quodrat and his friends, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.” — Jordan Mintzer, Hollywood Reporter