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Overall Rating

Awesome: 40%
Worth A Look51.43%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 5.71%
Total Crap: 2.86%

2 reviews, 23 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"Any westerner who feels like they have it bad has nothing to moan about."
4 stars

We're a pretty spoiled lot here in the civilized west. We're free to vote, and we don't bother. We're free to go to school and get an education, and we pay no attention. We're free to work in any career that interests us, and we end up in dead end jobs. And when things aren't going as planned, we get depressed, suicidal, psychotic... but think about the other side of the world and how they get about their day. Does your average Afghanistan resident get 'stress leave' from their job when things get too busy? No, they don't. In fact, the reality is that it's no small feat for an Afghani to walk across town without putting their lives at risk, and Osama, a film that has nothing to do with a certain Bin Laden, shows the struggles of everyday Afghan life in ways that few films before it - documentary and otherwise - have managed to match.

Marina Golbahari is Osama... or at least, she becomes Osama, when in a desperate attempt to bring some money into the family, her mother disguises the little girl as a boy and sends him... uh, her... off to work.

In modern day Afghanistan, the situation of women has been well-documented. Before the fall of the Taliban government, women were not allowed out of the house without an escort. They weren't allowed outside with wearing an all-covering bhurka. They weren't allowed to work. For widows with female children, this meant that they had no option but to starve or rely on the kindness of others.

In post-Taliban Afghanistan, the situation is better, but far from perfect. Women still fear what the mob will do to them if they remove their bhurkas, and education and jobs are still hard to come by.

Osama follows one young girl, pre-US invasion, as she and her mother, who is a doctor, dodge spies, religious police and the seemingly random arrests and punishments that befall those women around them on a daily basis. When Osama's grandmother suggests that she disguise herself as a boy, all three generations of women in the family know that to do so is to invite death, should the plan be discovered, but when none of them are permitted to work, there seems no other option.

Thus begins a little Afghan girl's venture into male Afghan society. Work, religious school, military training, education on the bizarre rituals of cleansing 'after wet dreams'... it's a world that is the polar opposite of what she's used to, but every bit as strange and terrifying.

Filmmaker Siddiq Barmak found his cast on the streets of Kabul, where not one of them had ever been in a film before. In fact, in the days of the Taliban, taking pictures of women with their faces uncovered was something that may have been punished with death by stoning. Which is not to say that Barmak's path to finishing this film would have been an easy one - remnants of the Taliban still run many parts of the country, a film that shares the name of America's former(?) public enemy number one is going to be a tough sell to certain sectors of the audience.

But what Barmak has going for him is a deft ability to educate while entertaining, instill fear without resorting to melodrama, and ultimately present these people to an audience that may have preconceptions as being every bit as human and worthwhile and respectable as anyone else.

When a Muslim woman reveals an ankle and those around her freak, we treat it as an oddity. But when an American woman reveals a breast on TV and half the country freaks, we see it as rational. In the end, are we really so different? And given the same surrounds that Osama and her family face, would we adapt as well?

Films from the Middle East can tend to run long for western audiences, but Osama is perfectly pitched and perfectly paced; a traditional story in a traditional setting that will make contemporary audiences think, feel and empathize with those on screen. Who could ask for more from a bunch of non-actors who've never heard of DVD?

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originally posted: 02/11/04 08:33:02
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This film is available for download or online viewing at For more in the series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/03/10 chris. fantastic. 5 stars
7/24/10 reptilesni Watching will break your heart because you will recognize the authenticity in it 4 stars
12/18/05 johnnyred A movie for reflection on the religous right. 5 stars
6/10/05 Steven S. Butler This movie rocks my ****** world !!!!!! 5 stars
1/29/05 Paul Ahart An uncompromising image of reality under the Taliban. 5 stars
12/24/04 Paul Magill Disturbing to an extreme 5 stars
11/06/04 Katie Heath "Awesome" in the original sense of filled with dread and disbelief. 5 stars
9/23/04 denny makes you think that our adventures in afgan might have been worth it 4 stars
9/13/04 wovengold A visual gem, beautifully filmed, with bright colors that only amplify the women's despair. 5 stars
8/15/04 angela bateman thes was the best & most emotionaly moving film i have seen in a long time. 5 stars
7/17/04 Gray Exaggerated my ass 4 stars
6/01/04 Brent Visually stunning. I like the documentry feel of the movie. The dark ages are here! 4 stars
5/30/04 boggyman a fantastically acurate and humbling look into a shocking reality 5 stars
5/06/04 Mark Fulwiler Somewhat dramatically inert, but worth seeing 4 stars
5/03/04 Kiran Khan Exaggerated 2 stars
4/26/04 The man with the plan Touching and Unique... 5 stars
3/24/04 Bates Enough of our jingoistic Americanism. Enough of spending mindless time. See this film. 5 stars
3/15/04 bob brill hated it & walked out. unremtting despair & poverty 1 stars
3/06/04 corinne wick terrifying film on the terrible power of the Taliban. a must see film. 5 stars
3/02/04 Wendranh what! 2 stars
2/24/04 Anahita This movie is astonishing! 5 stars
1/10/04 the lol man AMAZING, and everyone involved is a novice too. 5 stars
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  06-Feb-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Apr-2004



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