Osama (2003) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mature themes
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaiba Sahar, Khwaja Nader, Hamida Refah
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Screenplay: Siddiq Barmak
Osama was the first film to come out of Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime, and to no one's surprise, it tells about the abhorrent conditions that the the Afghan people would suffer under the very strict religious policies of the Taliban strain of Islamic beliefs. The people live in poverty, and the women, who are require to wear burqas which cover them from head to toe, plead for the right for them to work and feed their families, many having lost their husbands and male family members in war or in the hospitals, which are being closed down due to lack of funds. Anyone caught breaking the rules of the Taliban warlords would face incarceration and often death by stoning (whereby they are buried up to their neck and stones are hurled at their heads until they expire).
In this dark era for women, a mother dressed up her 12-year-old daughter as a boy in order that she might earn enough to get food for them to live off of. Getting caught doing this would mean certain death for the young girl, but her grandmother assures her that she will be able to pass as a boy so long as she never draws suspicion. Taliban lurk at every turn, and the girl doesn't know how she can keep up with false appearances, especially when all of the boys are rounded up to be trained in the ways of fighting and praying as young Taliban.
The actors in Osama are all amateurs, but I doubt you could ask for more realistic performances from anyone, especially in the phenomenal work done by Marina Golbahari as Osama, as she is dubbed while masquerading as a boy. Despite the main story itself being a work of fiction, Osama works very well because of its authenticity, filmed in Kabul with real people who live there, and who know what it was like to live in fear on a daily basis, seeing members of their families stripped away to prison, killed, or forces to marry and live in bondage.
With a fly on the wall perspective we wouldn't otherwise see (the Taliban did not allow filming or pictures under penalty of death), Osama is not only an heart-wrenching tale of one little girl caught up in a brutal regime, but also an important historical lesson. Perhaps the most striking thing about Barmak's work is that the Taliban is not depicted as purely evil, although many of the acts can be classified as such. From the perspective of Barmak, they are merely twisted by their own extreme religious beliefs into thinking what they are doing is for the good of the people, and that they are giving salvation to the masses through their no-tolerance crackdowns on anything which goes against their beliefs.
Osama isn't a thriller, but it is quite a nail-biter of a film, as we often see the young girl on the verge of being exposed at every turn. Heart-breaking on one hand, but uplifting to know that the days of the Taliban are behind them (for now), Barmak has told the story of one small girl and has exposed the world to the terror of living under such perilous conditions. It's not always easy to watch, but at the same time, it's impossible to take your eyes off of it. Haunting.
©2005 Vince Leo