Osama Siddiq Barmak

Osama Siddiq Barmak
Osama is the first full-length feature shot in Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power back in 1996. It should not be mistaken, however, for a glossy bio-pic about the life and times of Osama bin Laden. Rather, it is the tale of a fatherless 12-year-old girl who is forced during the Taliban's oppressive reign to disguise herself as a boy so that she can get work and provide food for her all-female family. ("Osama" is the name a helpful street urchin assigns her in order to shield her from suspicion.)

For more noble moviegoers, the mere existence of this film from a country long hidden from view is reason enough to rush to the theatre. For the rest of us, however, there is the question: is the film any good or just good for you? The answer, happily, is both. It is not a masterpiece, like the recent Kandahar, or even a particularly sophisticated work, like Jafar Panahi's The Circle, but the director, Siddiq Burmak, has a good eye and he stages sequences that will burn themselves into your memory.

The film opens with an enormous parade of women marching through the streets of Kabul, protesting their treatment at the hands of the new regime. And yet even in defiance these women are anonymous, clad head to toe in identical blue burkas, like a procession of body bags. When the Taliban arrives, blasting the crowd with a pressurised water spray, the women all scream and scatter, and their fleeing forms become sopping blue blobs. It's a mesmerising, devastating image.

A word must be said too for the film's young star, Marina Golbahari, who Barmak found on a Kabul street. Her character is constantly in danger, threatened by any man she happens near, and the fear and misery written on her face feel almost discomfortingly real. Watching her, you can't help but think that personal experience may have fused here with performance. (TVA)