Saturday, November 12, 2005


2003, Afghanistan/Iran/Japan, directed by Siddiq Barmak

When Osama was released, most of the focus was on the simple fact that it was the first film made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban (not that the pre-Taliban list of films was long; there was never a movie industry to speak of in Afghanistan, unlike in neighboring Iran or Pakistan), but it also happens to be a fine bit of filmmaking, a carefully crafted miniature of considerable power. Like several key recent films from Iran, Osama adopts a child's perspective to reveal the wider society, in this case following a young girl whose mother compels her to dress as a boy in order to gain employment (the mother, who is a medical professional, is restricted to her house under Taliban rule: as a widow, she doesn't have a man to accompany her anywhere). The decision seems a good one initially but once the girl - re-baptised Osama - is removed from her place of work by the local mullahs in order to attend a madrassa, things spiral out of control. Director Siddiq Barmak keeps the action absolutely pared down, rarely straying from the main story, yet using background detail to develop a rich portrait of an astonishingly controlled society (with women the most visibly, and most brutally, repressed victims). It's a society from which the Taliban has leached almost all of the joy, in which even small acts of childish exuberance become dangerous. The non-professional actors are, for the most part, excellent, while the visuals are accomplished, with striking images throughout - the young girl skipping in prison, or the rows of covered women, not even their eyes visible. To paraphrase a friend, Osama is one of those worthy films that also happens to be good, which shouldn't be too much to ask.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States