Directed by Siddiq Barmak
Starring Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar
Running Time: 82 minutes
If you read the news circa 2001-2002, you undoubtedly know about the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. You probably read or heard about their unfair treatment towards women, and you might also know that the regime was rather unpopular with its own people. Sometimes reading or hearing isn't understanding. No headline, cover story, or special edition can compare with the images shown in Osama. We are lucky, in fact, to have such a document, so recently removed from life under the regime, through the eyes of the people who lived it. Osama is not a perfect film, by any stretch, but it is enlightening and a must-see for anyone interested in world events.
Osama is the story of a family living under Taliban rule. The patriarch died while fighting in Kabul, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the wife, daughter, and mother he left behind have few options under the existing regime. In Afghanistan, at that time, no males in the household spelled doom. The females were hardly able to leave the house, much less work for a living. The family, knowing they have no other option for survival, decide to send their daughter out into the world, only masquerading as a boy. She does find work, with the help of a friend of her fathers, but she soon realizes how different and difficult man's world really is.
This was the first feature for Siddiq Barmak. For a first film, without any television or other experience, this newcomer did an extraordinary job. He framed his shots well, created an interesting color scheme, got the most out of his locations, and every shot was interesting visually. Even with those strengths, the amateurism of the film does show in many ways. The acting, as should be expected, was quite poor. The actors delivered their lines with a stiffness normally seen in high school or college productions here in the states. The dialog, as it was translated through subtitle, was very dry and unrevealing, very straightforward and unnatural.
The pacing and flow of the film also suffered. Some scenes didn't seem like they belonged; others felt awkward, and the film was generally predictable. The characters were not developed well, some of this was obviously intentional, but still they didn't seem to have proper motivation. Of all the characters, the protagonist was the most interesting and well developed, but we still have to wonder what she was thinking. At a certain point of the film. her future is certain, but she persists knowing that eventually she will be discovered. The film didn't really shed any light on why she continued, or didn't go about things a different away.
Osama has flaws, lots of them. It lacks the polish of films we're used to seeing. Is it fair for us to fault it for that? Can it be excused from criticism? Yes, and no. It is easy to overlook many of the film's problems, just because life under the Taliban is so eye-opening, and we are subsequently more sympathetic to the characters. Yet some of the film's shortcomings do get in the way of the narrative itself, and make the overall experience, although jarring, less interesting.
Osama isn't a masterpiece, or even a great movie, but it is worth seeing just for the recent historical significance. That said, it might be nice to see a similar story told through the eyes of a more experienced Middle Eastern director, such as a Kiarostami.