Osama Movie Review

Siddiq Barmak's Osama, the first Afghan film produced since the Taliban was dismantled by the U.S.'s post-9/11 military efforts, is a scathing indictment of the horrific treatment of women under Osama bin Laden's reign of terror. It's also, in light of the recent Under the Skin of the City and Kandahar, a somewhat familiar portrait of the Islamic world's systematic attempts to subjugate its female population through a mixture of humiliation, violence, and public and professional segregation. Yet if Barmak's film is not a unique depiction of the Islamic world, it is nonetheless a fiercely acute condemnation of the Taliban and a piercing call to arms on behalf of the country's enslaved female population.

"I wish God hadn't created women," laments a widow (Zubaida Sahar) who, because of a Taliban law that forbids women from working or traveling outside the home without male companionship, becomes trapped inside her house with her elderly mother and young daughter (Marina Golbahari). Fearing they'll die of starvation without an income, the mother - taking her cues from a fable her own mother repeatedly recites - decides that she'll disguise her daughter as a boy and send her out to work. By chopping the young girl's hair off and dressing her in men's clothing, the mother transforms her pretty daughter into a boy and gets her a job at the dairy shop run by a friend of the girl's dead father. Yet the ruse is soon put in jeopardy when the girl - re-named, in a bit of heavy-handed symbolism, Osama - is recruited along with the rest of the town's boys to join the Taliban.

Barmak, who wrote, edited and directed the film using a cast of non-professional actors, composes a number of stunning scenes that reveal the absurdity of the Taliban's strict rules and regulations. At the outset of the film, the mother and daughter are clandestinely working at a hospital, but the facility's female employees run away once Taliban soldiers arrive. The sight of people fearfully fleeing while a sick boy with a heavy limp is left behind illustrates the implicit insanity of the Taliban's anti-woman policies, which places female persecution on a higher plane than tending to the country's infirm. Soon afterwards, the mother is stopped while getting a ride back home on a bicycle, and the bike's driver is chastised for allowing the woman to show her bare feet in public because it will arouse other men. This frightening moment, which features merely the sight of the mother's feet receding behind her burka as Taliban voices bark insults, expertly highlights not only the ways in which the Taliban sought to make women nameless, faceless entities stripped of their basic humanity, but also shrewdly shows how fear of women's sexuality was one of the dominant motivations behind the Taliban's marginalization of women.

Although his minimalist visual compositions are characterized by a clear-eyed austerity and realism, Barmak skillfully incorporates Osama's recurrent wishful fantasy of jumping rope as a means of portraying the young girl's desire for freedom from her oppressive life. With delicate features and giant brown eyes that tremble with pain and terror, Golbahari (in her first screen role) does an admirable job conveying Osama's hopeless plight. The film doesn't shy away from starkly depicting Osama's inevitable fate, and, as a result of this blunt honesty, Osama becomes a poignant tribute to those who suffered under the tyrannically misogynistic rule of the Taliban.

DVD extras include a featurette about the movie and life in the Middle East.

Not that Osama.

Comments

Osama Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2003

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Osama Movie Review

Siddiq Barmak's Osama, the first Afghan film produced since the Taliban was dismantled by the U.S.'s post-9/11 military efforts, is a scathing indictment of the...

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