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February 17, 2004 > Osama


Director. Siddiq Barmak

by Christopher Cobb

For a film touting itself as the first produced in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, its craftsmanship mourns an intense artistic possibility that could not be under the regime. Of course, it's ironic that such a film could not have existed without such oppression.

In fact Barmak manages to condense the entire issue of Muslim-oppressed feminism in this one parable.

Siddiq Barmak's "Osama," relates the journey of a young girl forced to pose as a boy in order to support her family. The men in her family have died, forced to fight in wars they didn't believe in. When the Taliban come to close the local hospital, her mother is forced to stop working as a doctor. It is her grandmother that decides the only way to survive is if she cuts her hair and poses as a boy to apprentice.

Barmak's decision to cast Kabul locals instead of professional actors lends a personal depth to the performances. Marina Golbahari, playing the girl who becomes Osama, is flawless in her performance.

Soon all the boys, including Osama, are taken by the Taliban to begin schooling. The most routine exercise is a challenge for the girl, and the director does a great job of capturing these little moments without overexposing it.

The Taliban itself has no human face until well into the film. Instead they often appear from nowhere, like silent phantoms hidden from view. The decision leaves an imprint on the viewer.

The school becomes an entirely new set of obstacles for the girl, as many of the boys become suspicious. The subsequent trials become a procession of greater and greater heartbreak.

If there is a supporting character worth mention, it is the country itself. Shot in Kabul, Barmak's camera deftly captures the desolate beauty of Afghanistan. Crumbling, bullet-ridden buildings pepper a landscape where people pile onto bicycles or beast-drawn shells of wagons. It is otherworldly, or post-apocalyptic in the least, and entirely appropriate.

While some might say Barmak is too heavy-handed with his view of the situation, it may be too easy to forget what kind of a world exists when oppression is so complete and total.

While billing itself as another "based on a true story," the events surrounding the making of this film blur the lines between documentary and drama. The result is something greater than either alone but worth the scrutiny of both.

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