Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Set in Kabul in 1998 – when it was under Taliban control – this film gets us in immediately with its exquisite naturalistic animation. The sights – and equally the sounds – of the city’s street life are uncannily vivid. Given the context, it comes as no surprise that events quickly unfold in a very heavy and brutal way. We witness a woman being stoned to death for “fornication”, and various less stark but crushing examples of the depressing nature of war. All of this is cleverly offset – yet not undermined – by the delicate subtle ‘look’; it’s all pastel or muted colours, like a watercolour painting come to life.
The focus initially is on young and liberal-minded married couple Mohsen and Zunaira. He’s a teacher and she’s an artist. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that a key tragic event changes their lives irrevocably. There is also another couple at the heart of this story, or rather modern fable: prison guard Atiq and his wife Mussarat, who is dying of cancer. Atiq has a stern and stoical manner, and follows the rules. That is, needless to say, not easy to do in a ‘world’ where people are clubbed with rifles for the slightest infraction, and women are casually whipped in the street. The misogyny and fanaticism are so extreme that a friend of Atiq can advise him that “No man owes anything to a woman”, so he should dump Mussarat and “find a virgin and have children”.
The Swallows of Kabul is proof – if any were needed after so many prior instances – that animated films can be serious adult art. Occasionally it teeters on the edge of cliché, but then it pulls back and redeems itself. It’s very powerful, and a superb parable, with a lump-in-the-throat ending that’s more moving than most live-action movies. Amidst the ugliness there is beauty here too, both moral and visual, in the snow capped mountains and even – somehow – the dilapidated buildings.