Starring Marina Golbahari and Zubaida Sahar
Written and directed by Siddiq Barmak
Opens Friday, April 2
Before you get excited, this film is not about the infamous bin Laden. Osama is the name a street urchin gives a 12-year-old Afghan girl (the haunting Marina Golbahari, a former real-life street urchin) when he discovers that shes dressed as a boy in order to make a living for her mother and grandmother, who are forbidden to work or even step outside without a male escort under the Taliban regime. The boys protective gesture in concealing her true identity is pretty much the only happy spot in a melodrama that otherwise tracks the girls plight from bad to worse to hellish. Be warned Osama wears you out in a way that would be considered heartless and manipulative if it were pure fiction.
However, the fact that the Taliban treated women so horribly, and so recently, is enough truth to make the film devastatingly effective as a drama. Osama is well-paced, well-acted and beautifully shot, especially considering the meagre resources of Afghan writer-director Siddiq Barmak. Barmak had to rely on non-professional actors and outside backing from Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar) to get his film made. His visual style is obviously influenced by Makhmalbaf as well. Barmak makes particularly artful use of close-ups, such as focusing on the bare feet of a woman whos being castigated by unseen Taliban officers for not covering every inch of her flesh. These isolated images end up being more powerful than certain elements of the plot, which include such tried-and-true twists as the heroine getting her first period at a tragically inopportune moment.
Despite its core truth, its the films bits of pure fiction that concern me. Although Osama opens through the lens of a journalist filming an Afghan womens protest march, it should not be confused with a documentary. Barmak has taken liberties with the true story on which the film is based (the real girl dressed as a boy so she could get an education, but Barmak felt his film would be more poignant if the girl had to work so her family wouldnt starve). More disconcertingly, hes also taken liberties with the Taliban itself. As if how they treated women wasnt awful enough, he shows them publicly executing foreigners, which never actually happened as far as news reports are to be believed. Barmak may as well have shown the Taliban eating babies for all the credibility he forfeits in these scenes.
Osama is getting a lot of attention for being the first feature made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. While this represents a major achievement, the hype is a bit misleading since the film begins and ends during the Taliban years. The world is still waiting for the likely more interesting story of whats happened since.