The director finds beauty everywhere — in a cloud of dust, a traffic jam, the raucous din of children at play. And wherever such beauty exists, we imagine, hope can never be entirely absent.
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The film is an intimate portrait of a nation terminally anxious about who will see fit to rule it next.
The sections about the school are good enough on their own that trying to fold them into a larger statement on Afghanistan as it is now dilutes the potency of those smaller stories. Still, as a fresh view of life in a country Americans may too easily dismiss as a hopeless hellhole, it’s a welcome piece of work.
For viewers who adjust to its deliberately slow rhythms, the reward is a vivid portrait of daily life in Kabul and a rich look into childhood from the perspective of children who have every reason to expect the worst.
Longley’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Iraq in Fragments” finds a way to negotiate between empathy and condescension.
At its best, which is often enough, the film does provide that sort of intimate and evocative insight into a culture too often vilified due to Western ignorance. At others, the gentle exquisiteness with which Longley approaches even the most unappealing sights and sounds feels like an evasion of something more troubling, and potentially more profound.
What is life like on the ground for ordinary people in another culture, another world? That’s been the bread and butter of observational documentaries for forever, but almost never is it done with the kind of beauty and grace filmmaker James Longley brings to his Afghanistan-set Angels Are Made of Light.
Not everything here is perfect; the musical score, by Norwegian composer John Erik Kaada, favors ambient sonic wanderings that smooth over the conflicts on screen. But by the end, you feel as though you’ve truly gotten to know a full range of Kabul residents through their daily routines, joys, recreational diversions (kite-flying, slingshots, the international language of soccer) and bone-deep skepticism about the future.
Angels Are Made of Light serves as a lament for a prosperous past that can’t be reclaimed, a volatile present that affords few prospects for joy or success, and a future that’s terrifyingly uncertain.