Monday, December 28, 2009


A little history before we get started.

When Taliban came to power in 1996, filming within the country was banned and more than 2,500 existing films were destroyed. Siddiq Barmak (the writer/director of Osama and the head of the Afghanistan Film Organization at the time) left the country and lived in exile with his family in Pakistan.

In 2002, Taliban occupation of Afghanistan ended. So too ended the ban of filming in the country and Siddiq returned to his home country. Osama became the first motion picture to be filmed in Afghanistan in more than five years. In a very real way it helped restart the film community and industry that the Taliban had nearly obliterated. If for no other reason than this, Osama has a great deal of historical worth. But it also has proved itself on the world stage, being very well received at festivals and winning several awards, Golden Globe included (Best Foreign Language Film, 2004).

I want to get this out of the way, Osama is not a nice film. Osama is not a film about the redemption of humanity or heroes overcoming or young love in unlikely places. Osama is a bleak film about terrible times.

Taking place during Taliban occupation in Afghanistan, the story opens on a mother and her daughter being forced into an early retirement when the hospital that employs them is shut down. Women aren’t allowed to walk the streets without their husbands much less work but this family has no other options since the father is dead. To provide for her mother and grandmother, the daughter is forced to pass herself off as a boy and get a job. This works for a while, but then the Taliban round up all the boys in the city, taking them to a camp in order to teach them the proper manner of manhood. Osama, as she is now called, finds herself a sheep in a den of the wolves.

Osama is a beautifully shot film filled with powerful, sometimes haunting imagery (including a sea of women in blue burkas marching down dusty streets, and dreamlike shot of a little girl skipping rope behind bars). Among many others, these images bring to vivid life a culture hiding in the shadow of oppression and will stay with the viewer for days.

It’s a powerful film; a simple story well told. There aren’t a lot of surprises, but it’s not that kind of movie.

The main character urks me a little. Whenever the going gets tough she shrinks into a corner and cries for her someone else to come and solve her problems. She reacts to every situation she finds herself in but never once makes a decision. Someone else chooses that she should be a boy. Someone else finds the work. Heck even the name “Osama” is chosen by someone else. The feminist movement is spinning in it’s grave, I tell you.

And I found the Taliban themselves to be a little flat. They just go around shutting down hospitals and locking up women for minor reasons. Not a single Taliban comes across as being a developed character. Am I alone in this?

Feminists may get offended at the main character and the portrayal of women (who can barely seem to walk across the street without a man helping them; “I am her husband, she is with me.”). Ultimately though this film has more going for it than not. It’s a film worth taking the time to digest and talk about.

Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

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