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  •  REVIEW: OSAMA



    Osama

    Afghan boys don't cry

    "Osama," the first film made in post-Taliban Afghanistan, is a gripping small story with big implications about what happens when a desperate family commits the unthinkable crime — sending a daughter out in boy's clothing to earn a living.

    By PETER THEIS
    Offoffoff.com

    In the cinema of witness, a movie's merit lies largely in its fidelity to the reality of oppression. Yet the film has to have more — else it would only be journalism. In the first film made in post-Taliban Afghanistan, writer/director/editor Siddiq Barmak succeeds, skillfully and without a false note, in making an engrossing drama of life under the Taliban. It is an Ockham's razor of narrative and image which reaches out from the screen and cuts the viewer; more than the heart bleeds as the twelve-year old protagonist (Marina Golbahari) negotiates her impossible world.

      
    OSAMA
    Written and directed by: Siddiq Barmak.
    Cast: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar, Gol Rahman Ghorbandi, Mohamad Haref Harati, Mohamad Nader Khadjeh, Khwaja Nader, Hamida Refah.
    Choreography by: Ebrahim Ghafori.
    In Dari with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    The film takes place sometime after the rise of the Taliban, and opens with a scene of a demonstration. Women clad in blue burqas cascade down a dusty hill, demanding the right to work to feed their families. These are women without men, who were taken over years of war and chaos. Notwithstanding the chanted qualification to the women's demands, "We are not political!" the Taliban know what Western feminists teach: the personal is the political. Through weapon and water cannon, the Taliban break up the demonstration.

    Barmak conveys the violence obliquely. The agents of the Taliban are left out of frame, and the carnage is mostly symbolic. A ruined burqa washes down the street as the demonstrators scream and flee pell-mell. Barmak's indirect approach evokes the nature of Taliban repression. It is not excessive; no massacre is needed. Just enough to sow fear and terror. Throughout the film, Taliban agents are omnipresent to police even the slightest departure from prescribed gender conduct, even in private spaces. Their malevolence, even without violence, is strongly felt.

    Osama  
    The young protagonist, not named, gets caught up in the demonstration, and she is terrified. To her pre-adolescent eyes, the ubiquitous Taliban men are inexplicable bogeymen, raw representives of menace. But for lack of any other option, the mother (Khwaja Nader) insists that her understandably trepid daughter pass as a boy, and go out among the bogeymen to work. Although the request seems extreme, the mother is simply applying the logic of deception that allows every woman to survive. Throughout the film, women must dissemble constantly, pretending that they are mourning when they are celebrating, and pretending that they are with a male relative when they are not. Passing, in one form or another, is the norm.

    However, the girl's act of deception is made difficult when she is drafted, along with every other village boy, into the local madrassa, a religious school. Her inability to execute boyish rites of masculinity — she can't even tie a turban — begins to give her away to her schoolmates. In a desperate attempt to allay suspicion, the girl's one ally, a beggar child (Arif Herati) who is in on the deception, christens her Osama. Yes, she is named after Osama bin Laden, who is deemed an ideal of manhood, a warrior. But even one of the madrassa's clerics (or rather, a satyr in cleric's clothing) intuits the girl's femininity, likening her to a nymph.

      Osama
    Without giving away too much, the remainder of the film follows the logic of its premises faithfully and creatively. The narrative unspools amidst a sequence of striking and symbolic imagery: an abyss of a well, a ruined lawcourt, a thread of locks. It is a looking-glass world where womanhood is a tragic flaw, but nonetheless has utility for the men in charge. The resolution of the film brings this home, proving that gender disempowerment, no matter what ideology sustains it, ultimately keeps women where men prefer them most.

    Osama benefits from its spare production (it is the first post-Taliban film, made on the only 35mm camera in the country). Cinematic minimalism provides the perfect feel to a story about lack of freedom in a spartan nation. The performance of the young girl — a non-professional found in the street — is natural, conveying all the terror and confusion of her situation. Most importantly, the story is gripping and unflinching, and Barmak (who cites Russia's Andrei Tarkovsky and Iran's Abbas Kiarostami as influences) deploys a subtle symbolism, and memorable imagery, which reinforces the narrative arc. The result is a film of power, with its despair on its sleeve.


      
    Barmak's indirect approach evokes the nature of Taliban repression. It is not excessive; no massacre is needed. Just enough to sow fear and terror.  

      
    Of course, a detached observer might cast a wary eye towards this film's reception in America, given the political establishment's interest in Afghanistan and reductive view of Islam. Will this film contribute to the new Orientalism which demonizes Islam and rationalizes armed intervention? Will this film contribute to the idea that Taliban Afghanistan was merely a unique aberration — now an artifact — in squashing the rights of women beneath a reign of men?

    These questions and others must be asked, but Barmak can likely be absolved from any complicity. His film is a local one, concerned with the specific techniques of fear and control through which the Taliban ruled. He makes no generalization of Islam, but condemns a police society where women must surrender any semblance of life upon pain of death. To the extent that his film is a well-imagined dramatization of a life under that poisoned social model, it deserves its accolades, and an audience.

    FEBRUARY 6, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Osama:

  • the afgans should build there own luck.   from murad al qardi, Feb 21, 2004
  • Re: the afgans should build there own luck.   from osama fan, Apr 2, 2005
  • Re: the afgans should build there own luck.   from Amrapalee, Sep 16, 2007
  • Re: the afgans should build there own luck.   from sadaf, Jul 22, 2005
  • Re: the afgans should build there own luck.   from Amrapalee, Sep 16, 2007
  • Re: the afgans should build there own luck.   from Muhammad Al-Aabdar Abbas, Aug 19, 2008
  • Osama the great   from usman(Osama), Apr 12, 2004
  • Osama--some thoughts   from tasneem, Apr 22, 2004
  • Re: Osama--some thoughts   from , May 28, 2004
  • Re: Osama--some thoughts   from also a woman, Sep 1, 2004
  • Re: Osama--some thoughts   from , Sep 24, 2005
  • The Power of One Little Girl   from G. G. Garth, May 24, 2004
  • Great movie guys !!!   from Peruvian, Jun 24, 2004
  • Re: Great movie guys !!!   from sadaf, Jul 22, 2005
  • Re: Great movie guys !!!   from SANA, Jul 28, 2005
  • Re: Great movie guys !!!   from sadique, Nov 7, 2007
  • Worth Your Time   from An American Woman, Jul 30, 2004
  • [no subject]   from alexis, Sep 10, 2004
  • Re: unintended consequences of US invasion   from Belgian, Oct 30, 2006
  • A real movie.   from Masalah Woodengs, Nov 24, 2004
  • all the way from India   from Eshaan T, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: all the way from India   from sadaf, Jul 22, 2005
  • Re: all the way from India   from sana, Jul 28, 2005
  • Re: all the way from India   from sana, Jul 28, 2005
  • What was it???   from Kim, Nov 26, 2004
  • Here is you Answer Kim   from Lida, Dec 10, 2004
  • Re: Here is you Answer Kim   from kate, May 19, 2006
  • [no subject]   from Louise, Dec 7, 2004
  • long awaited   from Afghan girl, Dec 12, 2004
  • indian muslim thought   from razia, Dec 17, 2004
  • Who played the old mullah??   from Acer, Jan 6, 2005
  • OSAMA is stunning   from Antxonio, Jan 7, 2005
  • osama   from naser, Jan 12, 2005
  • movie based on lie   from Azmat shinwari, Jan 28, 2005
  • Re: movie based on lie   from Najeeb Khurramy, Feb 20, 2005
  • Re: movie based on lie   from sadaf, Jul 22, 2005
  • Re: movie based on lie   from zeina, Mar 15, 2007
  • a word of appreciation from new zealand   from Paramita n' Nilim, Oct 30, 2006
  • [no subject]   from Rani, Nov 16, 2006
  • thats not fair.....   from zahida, Jun 28, 2007
  • Waste of Life   from Mel, Jul 19, 2007
  • [no subject]   from Amrapalee, Sep 16, 2007
  • A move that wil not let you go   from Margaret, Dec 22, 2007

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