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Osama  (2003)


Starring: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar

Director: Siddiq Barmak

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 27, 2004
Review posted: July 20, 2004

Spoilers: Yes


Reviewed by Greg Malmborg




Osama is the tragic story of the horrendous and atrocious existence of women under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan through the eyes of one young girl (Golbahari). Under the Taliban rules, no women are allowed on the streets without a male escort, they can be arrested or worse for working, they are shot for demonstrating against the Taliban, they are married off at extremely young ages, and they must always be covered up. Women are treated as second-class citizens and live in a constant state of fear and oppression. 


Osama focuses on one girlís struggle to survive in this oppression. When the brother and father of this young girl are killed, the girl and her mother (Sahar) are faced with virtually no way to support themselves. On the brink of starvation, the mother decides to disguise the young girl as a boy, calling her Osama (a young beggar aware of this deception is actually the one to name her), in order for the family to find any source of income. A local grocer (Herati) who knew the husband agrees to hire Osama to work in the store and it isnít long before Osama is forced by the Taliban, with all the other young boys in the village, into military camp. It is here where the girl must fight to keep her identity a secret or face the consequences (which would be most certainly death).




Osama is an extremely grim and depressing film, it is a very hard film to sit through, but the images and struggles of these people will stay with you after the film is over (whether you want them to or not). 


The film provides the viewer with a strong sense of what everyday life was like for women under the Taliban rule, and in that sense, it is a success. The absolutely dreadful way women are treated and forced to live as second-class citizens is captured powerfully. And yet Osama is such an utterly depressing experience, with the non-stop barrage of horrific images that it makes for an almost numbing experience. Even though this is a very personal journey through the lives of this young girl and her mother, the emotional impact was almost non-existent. 


It may also have to due with the acting, which was so leaden and sullen that it was difficult to form any connection to these characters. In particular, the little girl, who plays Osama, is so withdrawn, dour, and passive that it was difficult to connect with some of the scenes that focus on her reactions and emotional connection to these horrible surroundings. I felt the same way for the woman who plays the mother, as well as most of the supporting cast. The only character that had some breadth of emotion and life was that of the grocery store owner. The direction is quite competent and the director, Barmak, makes great use of color and composition even though the surroundings are so dank and lifeless. He manages to find some beauty in this horrible place. 


In viewing Osama as a study in the everyday life of women under the oppressive Taliban rule, the film is worthwhile and substantial (and the images stay with you), but as a moving journey through the characters of this story, it fails to register emotionally which makes the film tough to sit through and connect with.




The transfer is quite good especially considering the fact that the director was working with an incredibly small budget so the quality of the film should be of a lower grade. Yet the film looks great, colors are vibrant, the images are crisp and detailed, and there are almost no visible image problems.




Osama is presented in Pashtu Stereo Surround audio and the audio quality is average. I noticed some balancing problems and the dialogue did sound crisp, it sounded like it was part of the background noise. But again, the director was working off of virtually no budget so this would be expected. And since the film is in subtitles, it wasnít a big problem.




There is only one extra, a documentary called Sharing Hope and Freedom. This is an interview with the director, Siddiq Barmak. The doc is an interesting, thought-provoking and very personal discussion with the director on the film itself and some personal stories of life under the Taliban. This is an excellent extra and it enhances your appreciation for the film.




While the characters are not very well developed or acted and the overwhelmingly depressing nature of the film mutes the emotional impact, the horrific images stay with you and, as a study in the everyday life of these oppressed people, Osama is an interesting and thought provoking piece.




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