Compelling 'Osama' offers harsh take on survival tactics
Writer-director Siddiq Barmak's "Osama," the first movie to be made in, and released from, Afghanistan since the Taliban took over in 1996, depicts a tragic childhood.
A girl of 12, eventually called Osama (Marina Golbahari), lives with her widowed mother (Zubaida Sahar) and elderly grandmother (Hamida Refah) and works with her mom at a hospital.
When the Taliban takes over and jails the women doctors, the film's focus family is forbidden even to leave their home without a male chaperone. With no male to escort them or earn food for them, they're trapped in the house with no means of support.
The grandmother suggests they cut the child's hair and disguise her as a boy so she can work for a shopkeeper.
The girl is terrified, a situation exacerbated when she's rounded up with dozens of boys and sent off to a Taliban school, which is like a rough-and-tumble orphanage.
Nicknamed Osama for her own protection by a fellow captive named Espandi (Arif Herati), she's taunted as an effeminate boy by her peers and rendered all the more vulnerable to exposure.
Barmak's film has thematic similarities to Majid Majidi's "Baran" (2001), wherein a 17-year-old Iranian disguises herself as a man to earn money for her family as a construction worker, and Agnieszka Holland's "Europa, Europa" (1991), in which a Jewish boy bids for survival in a Hitler youth camp by keeping himself covered and passing as a non-Jew.
"Osama's" portrayal of a sensitive adolescent's desperate bid for survival makes other current films about young people, including "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London" and "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," look ludicrous beyond acceptability even as empty-headed entertainment.
"Osama" won the Golden Globe as best foreign language film. It was Afghanistan's contender for Oscar consideration in the same category but did not make the final slate of five nominees.
Beginning with young Golbahari's remarkable work, everything about it is compelling, most of all a shot of hospital workers scrambling out of the building during a Taliban raid.
A motionless camera outside records the image of one lame child, hobbling behind the fleeing crowd, unable to keep up. Additional Information:
Director: Siddiq Barmak.
Stars: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements.
Now playing: Manor in Squirrel Hill.