Osama - the most internationally successful Afghan film ever


Osama (Afghanistan/Netherlands/Japan/Ireland/Iran, 2003)

Seen: Saturday, 11th April 2009 (DVD)
Runtime: 83′
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Cast: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar
Production House: Barmak Film, Makhmalbaf Productions, Hubert Bals Fund, LeBrocquy Fraser Productions, NHK
Plot: During the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, a widow decides to dress her daughter up as a boy, so that at least one family member can get work and food to support the family.


Impressions In Short
There are some very good things about this film and I guess this is excellent coming from a country that has had their entire film culture destroyed (the Taleban burnt all the films they could find, including a public burning of the 2500 films gathered in the Kabul film library). But I did have a problem with it…

More About the Film
Siddiq Barmak graduated from the Moscow film school and it’s very obvious in his style. Osama is very beautifully shot and edited in classic Soviet style. The cinematography is really one of the strong points of the film I think.
There are some great ideas in the storytelling too. I loved how the director was incorporated into the story at the beginning and end of the film. It was amusing :) I also loved the character of Espandi and thought the boy playing him (Arif Herati) was great. I liked some of the directions the plot took, though I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll stay quiet on that.
The thing that really got me though was that it felt like the world of women is very foreign to the director… While it’s a film about women, it’s very clearly made from a man’s point of view. I mean in a country like Afghanistan where the worlds of women and men are very divided it’s to be expected I guess. But some things did effect my enjoyment of the film… Specifically, there was one plot point, which involved the girl getting her first period and I just can’t get over it lol The chances of getting one’s first period at such an inopportune moment are very slim and that in itself was veeery far-fetched, but it got even more ridiculous. The bleeding was so strong that it dripped down some very thick and dark trousers in a very short space of time. Those kinds of trousers would cover quite a lot of those kinds of problems - trust me :] I’m not saying the blood wouldn’t have dripped down eventually, but it would have taken longer than that and definitely wouldn’t have dripped down in such copious amounts straight away. They could have at least got her to wear some lighter colours or something rather than go for something so unrealistic :] The silliest bit though is that just a few scenes before that we learn she still has a completely flat chest, no boobs at all (she had to strip her shirt off for a bathroom scene and even without her shirt on she manages to fool the Taleban she’s a boy - that’s how flat she is). I’m sorry, but I just do not know of a girl who got her first period before she had any boobs…
Another thing that struck me is that I felt a significant difference between the quality of performance of the male cast and quality of performance of the female cast. The guys IMHO were much better. Unfortunately it’s the women who were the key ingredients of the story :] I don’t know whether this quality difference arised because they couldn’t be too choosy about the women they cast (for an Afghan woman taking a part in a film is much more risky than for a man) or whether Barmak was awkward about directing them or something (even in the West many directors feel more comfortable directing their own gender), but I really felt the difference.
Despite the criticism I definitely want to see more of Barmak’s work :) I do think he’s a great director. I just hope he stays off women’s issues for a while ;) Also, I may have been a bit unfair. On the whole this film got good reviews, so clearly not everyone got the impressions I did.

If you’re interested in Afghanistan and the Taleban then this is definitely worth watching as this is pretty much the only film of its kind. AFAIK there is no other internationally successful film shot in Afghanistan by an Afghan director. If you’re not specifically interested in the film’s themes, however, I would neither recommend it nor try to dissuade you from seeing it…

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