Angels Are Made of Light ★★★½

Early in James Longley’s “Angels Are Made of Light,” a clear-eyed and confrontational portrait of daily life in modern Afghanistan, a disembodied voice narrates an ancient story about an old man who wandered the streets with a lantern in broad daylight. When people questioned why he would do such a thing, the old man replied: “I am looking for a human being.” Versions of this vague parable exist in several cultures (the Greeks assigned it to Diogenes the Cynic, who facetiously sought “an honest man”), but they’re bound by a shared truth: Seeing a person is not the same thing as recognizing his or her intrinsic value.

“Angels Are Made of Light” is a documentary shot with a lantern in broad daylight. It’s a film about the Afghan people that attempts to see them more closely than most Westerners are accustomed, and to restore a basic humanity that’s been overruled by a forever war that most locals have no interest in fighting. There are any number of inherent pitfalls to a white American making a movie about the hardships and dignities of poor brown people — especially when that movie is so explicitly aimed at a white American audience — Longley’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Iraq in Fragments” finds a way to negotiate between empathy and condescension.

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