Osama Siddiq Barmak

OsamaSiddiq Barmak
No, this is not a biopic of "public enemy number one." Instead, Osama is the name taken by a 12-year old girl disguising herself as a boy under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Her mother is a war widow who works at a hospital closed by the government. Without any source of income, or even the necessary male figure to escort them around town, the mother and grandmother decide that they have little choice but to cross-dress their child and send her off to work. Comedic mayhem ensues. No, just kidding. There are no happy endings in a misogynistic totalitarian state. As a historical piece, Osama is a valuable look at repressive life under a burka, but there's little here that couldn't be better said in a documentary. Seeing as how the Taliban banned not only art and music but cinema as well, this film — the first one shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban — is a gorgeously photographed document of a time and place. The opening protest scene, with its sea of burka blue, and the look at life inside a madrassah are fascinating. Writer/director Siddiq Barmak is quite obviously in love with the language of cinema — as he explains in the 20-minute interview included here — but he's still a clunky writer, and his use of non-actors for a cinema verité feel doesn't help much. Thankfully, the exception is Marina Golbahari in the title role, who conveys the child's fear of discovery with a panic-stricken look of perpetual guilt. Anyone who reads periodicals won't be surprised by anything they see here — but then again, really, who reads anymore? For those that don't, Osama helps explain why the Taliban were even more harm to their own people than they were to the state of the world. Now go read a book! (Lions Gate)