Eleven-year-old Khaled Dourlon is a survivor; one of those quiet on the outside, tough on the inside kids who will do whatever it takes to survive. It’s a good thing he has such resolve too, because things are pretty grim around him. He lives with his mom, a recovering junkie with a worsening, rattling cough, who loves him fiercely just the same. After the seemingly daily brawl at school, fueled usually by racist taunts, he returns to their squalid apartment, gets a check for ten dollars, and buys some soup for their evening meal and cigarettes for his mom. A few shoplifted frozen pizzas supplement this meager diet. Each night before he goes to sleep, Khaled huddles under his blankets and, against his mother’s token orders, scratches out a journal of the day’s events by the light of a flashlight.
As tedious and depressing as this existence certainly is, however, it only becomes more so when his mother dies one night. Thus begins a truly surreal existence for the young boy, who covers up her body with a blanket, masks the ever-more pungent odor of decay with disinfectant spray, and desperately attempts to carry on with his normal life.
That he’s able to do so for so long is director Asghar Massombagi’s scathing indictment against our inward-looking society. At the very least, it’s certainly ironic that the one person who truly suspects Khaled is in trouble is Rosa, Khaled’s elderly blind neighbor woman who lives downstairs.
Based on real life events, “Khaled” is a grim and difficult film to sit through. Despite Khaled’s resolve and determination, the film leaves the viewer with very little sense of heroism and even less of triumph. It actually becomes more depressing, if not heartbreaking, to watch Khaled “solve” each problem as it comes up, knowing that his solution is merely akin to putting a band-aid on a cancerous wound. An endeavor that’s doomed from the outset, one can only observe this old-beyond-his years boy with a mixture of admiration and compassion.
The viewer’s only solace, after emerging from this gloomy, wrenching experience, is knowing that if Khaled could survive for that long in an apartment with his dead mother, the kid can probably survive anything.