The Swallows of Kabul – OIAF 2019 Review

What can be best described as a more brutal, grisly, and arguably better version of Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner, The Swallows of Kabul is a hauntingly disturbing and politically revealing romantic fable, on the extreme oppressive regime of the Taliban occupation in Kabul, Afghanistan. Premiering earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, receiving admirable attention; this female-drive international co-production is both a win in directing towards a path of diversity attention, and advocating against suppressible sexist rulings. Told through the perspective of a prison warden, and a convicted artist, the two points of views clash together in unison, to create an emotionally-exhausting finale that will leave audiences slightly puzzled by how bluntly hand-fisted the resolution ended up becoming. 

The Swallows of Kabul is a film that particularly indulges in taking its sweet time, while never using it’s short 80-minute run-time to its utmost advantage. The inciting incident especially, not only comes in way too late during the film, but the conflict between the warden and artist, all together feels like a rushed sequence of events. There’s no chemistry, nor rhyme or rhythm. We’re put in multiple scenes that feel artificially created by a semi-competent screenwriter, who still keeps on fumbling and failing in inventing dialogue that feels fluid and natural with the surrounding environment. 

Yet the narrative inconsistencies isn’t even close to being the film’s worst offender of its confused identity. There’s something slightly crude about how the presentation of events unfolded, with the gorgeously rendered two-dimensional images. The watercolor stylings may be beautifully poetic, but the clash between extreme realism and a more interpretive visual aesthetic don’t go well together, hand in hand. The result is jarring, that leads to a few poorly paced sequences and some awkwardly intense character revelations. The dry color-pallet is appreciated, yet the illusion of movement doesn’t work well in this specific context; especially for this kind of dry and dreary, story. 

Visually astonishing to a certain degree, and sometimes inventively creative with its cultural representation, The Swallows of Kabul is a bit of a mixed bag. Like any film, it has its highs and lows, and paces itself as an incredibly depressive self-referential biopic. The problem is more so in the film’s artistic direction, and the choice to represent the film’s content in a style that feels slightly juvenile towards some serious subject matter. Live-action would have arguably worked better, where the actors could have easily performed in a more effective and less tone-deaf manner. For what it is though, The Swallows of Kabul is an adequate meditation on love, lust, and romantic tragedy.

The Swallows of Kabul screened at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival. The film will re-screen again at the Bytowne Cinema on September 28th at 9:15 PM

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