Review by Ed Nguyen
Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Audio: Pashtu 1.0
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Features: "Sharing Hope and Freedom" featurette, trailer
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2004
husband's a martyr. You're my last
hope, except for God."
of the more significant aftermaths of the 1980's Afghan-Soviet conflict was a
foundation of great discontent and unrest in Afghanistan.
With the eventual withdrawal of defeated Soviet troops in 1989, the
war-torn country of Afghanistan quickly collapsed into scattered pockets of
blood feuds and internal conflicts.. Mujahedeen,
or Islamic warriors, became divided along ethnic and territorial lines, and what
ensued was a protracted and violent civil war.
men amongst the poverty-stricken populace tried to find some solace through the
madrassas. The teachings of these
fundamental Islamic schools offered a sense of unity and purpose, even as the
September 1994, the mullah Mohammad Omar gathered forth restless men from the
southern Afghan province of Kandahar. These
men formed the foundation of a militia dedicated to restoring Sharia, the
Islamic law as written in the Koran. That militia was to become the Taliban.
Taliban achieved many early successes against rival warlords.
Within two years, the Taliban had seized control of much of Afghanistan,
including its capital, Kabul. Disaffected
mujahedeen and followers of the madrassas schools soon lent their support to the
Taliban, whose increasing popularity and military strength gave its leaders a
legitimate claim to power over the entire country.
By June 1997, two-thirds of Afghanistan was held by the Taliban. By 2001, ninety percent of the country was united under
this new political environment, Sharia was strictly enforced.
The new totalitarian government, now operated by religious fundamentalist
extremists, controlled most every facet of Afghan life.
Modern conveniences and artificial depiction of living things, either
through photography or the arts, were forbidden.
Men were required to grow long beards.
Women and girls were banned from seeking employment or studying in
schools. Furthermore, women could
only venture outside their homes if they were heavily draped in burkas (long
robes which covered them completely from head to toe) and only with the
accompaniment of their husbands. Violations or crimes against the Taliban order could easily
result in severe reprimands, including execution.
film Osama (2003) chronicles the
struggles of one Afghan family to survive within this sociopolitical
environment. The family's plight is
worsened by the absence of any men, the husband having been killed in the Kabul
wars and the sole brother having died fighting Russian soldiers.
Now comprised of an elderly grandmother, a widow, and her twelve-year-old
daughter, this family must somehow adapt to the strict limitations placed upon
women's acceptable roles in Taliban society.
opens in a faux-documentary style as a procession of women, veiled within their
burkas, march in protest upon the open streets of Kabul.
Their demand is simple - they only wish to be given an opportunity to
work and to earn a living. It is
not long before Taliban soldiers arrive to subdue the protest march. Observing the confrontation unfold before them, the Afghan
widow and her child cringe behind a closed door until the violence has subsided.
widow's plight is similar to the protesters'.
She is about to lose her job at the local hospital, already in partial
disrepair due to government neglect. Without
the widow's job, her family has no source of income and faces the prospect of
certain starvation. The widow's
solution is drastic, but one born of desperation - the young girl's hair is to
be cropped, and she is to be attired in boys' garments.
If she can pass as a boy, perhaps the child can provide some food or
money for her family.
story of Osama focuses upon this young
girl as she toils in secret within the Taliban-controlled town of Kabul, always
fearful of the exposure of her true identity. The girl, whose true name is never revealed, is eventually
given the name of Osama by Espandi (Arif Herati), a street urchin who befriends
her and shields her from the inquisitive glances of other boys.
However, the young boys of Kabul, including the girl "Osama," are soon gathered together by Taliban militia. They are sent for special training to a madrassa religious school where Koran text is used to indoctrinate them in the ways of military combat. The children engage in Quranic recitations and rituals such as the ghusl, or full ablution. "Osama," among all these boys, cannot truly hope to maintain her secret indefinitely, and when her guise is ultimately penetrated, the consequences for her are inevitably dire.
this a Hollywood film, perhaps there would be a splinter of hope for the girl's
fate. However, Osama is not a Hollywood production and so deals with its subject
matter honestly, avoiding any superficially happy ending.
This film describes an oppressive world where outspoken civilians risk
being executed, where prepubescent girls are routinely and forcedly married to
elderly mullahs, where even foreign journalists are not immune to Taliban law.
In this world, women have no voice, and even a few fleeting moments of
happiness must be tempered by the constant fear of discovery or retribution.
Osama is an illustration of the social injustices that can arise in a society founded upon repression and submission. It is a provocative film that offers western audiences a first-hand look into a foreign world where amenities and social privileges are not taken-for-granted or so lightly-regarded. There are many real-world lessons to be derived from this film, and only time will tell if history is destined to repeat itself, or whether humanity can learn from its fallacies.
benefits from the camerawork of cinematographer Ebrahim Ghafori.
He had previously achieved compelling work on the Iranian film Kandahar
(2001), also about Afghan society under Taliban rule, as experienced through the
journey of an Afghan-Canadian woman. Osama
has a rich palette of natural colors, ranging from dyed burkas to sun-bleached
villas. The transfer is sharp and
crisp, even during evening scenes, and contains only a trace of dust and debris.
Morose subject matter notwithstanding, Osama
is really a gorgeous film to behold.
only real downside is that subtitles (yellow font in a black background) are
burned directly onto the print and cannot be removed. Fortunately, they are small (but easily legible) and do not
obscure any significant film images.
is presented in its original Pashtu monaural track.
Clearly, this is a film for which many people will be resorting to the
subtitles. For a monaural track,
the sound is quite rich and occasionally forceful, providing a good sense of
ambience, particularly during crowd scenes.
disc contains a couple of features. One
is the film's trailer, and the other is "Sharing Hope and Freedom" (23
min.), an interview with Siddiq Barmak. The
film's director discusses difficulties imposed upon Afghan women under Taliban
rule and his own efforts to make his film as authentic a record of their
struggles as possible. The
interview is somewhat dull in its presentation, but its message is a noteworthy