A review of “Osama” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for violence, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

 

 

The first feature production of post-Taliban Afghan cinema is a taboo-shattering exploration of Afghanistan’s social and cultural cataclysms.   Pregnant with emotion and bitterly realized, Osama is every inch deserving of its Best Foreign Film Golden Globe.

A twelve-year old Afghan girl (Marina Golbahari) and her widowed mother are forced to take drastic measures when the Taliban closes the hospital where they work. With the men of the family deceased and the women forbidden to leave home without a “legal companion” (i.e. male), mom disguises her daughter as a boy so the pair will be able to move freely through the streets to seek employment.

The child, re-christened Osama, struggles to maintain the ruse and to see the world through the eyes of a young man. Soon enough the local boys are rounded up for military training, and Osama is swept into the vortex.

Their tutelage is fraught with danger and exposure.  Group bathing and sporting activities threaten to reveal Osama’s gender deception, for which the punishment is most likely death.

Dialogue is spare to the point of minimal; the proceedings vaguely alien before comprehension finally dawns. Void of the distinctive trappings of foreign cinema, Osama is ultimately raw and riveting

Director Siddiq Barmak (who honed his craft at Moscow University) gathered his non-professional cast from local orphanages and refugee camps.  Golbahari – a lovely, expressive adolescent – is one of thirteen members of a poverty-stricken family who currently studies at a center for street children.

Heavy with threat around every corner, Osama is not a feel-good experience.  But its expression of the onus of oppression is formidable.