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Osama

Director: Sidiq Barmak

(Afghanistan-Japan-Ireland| 2003. Colour. 82 mins.)


A prize-winner at the Cannes and London festivals, Osama is the first feature production of post-Taliban Afghan cinema. Filmed in Kabul late in 2002, it is a groundbreaking exploration of Afghanistan’s social upheavals, telling the story of working-class women during the early part of the Taliban regime from the point of view of an Afghan national. With passionate commitment to his country’s independence, writer-director Siddiq Barmak brings an insider’s perceptions and an artist’s dramatic flair to this devastating reflection on the recent past.
While in exile during Taliban rule, Barmak was struck by the story of a girl who masqueraded as a boy to satisfy her hunger for the education forbidden to Afghan women. Osama investigates their need for subterfuge through the story of a twelve-year-old (Marina Golbahari) whose widowed mother dresses her in boy’s clothes to evade the repressive commands of the Taliban. After the new regime abruptly closes the hospital where the girl and her mother work, the daughter must take on the role of son—legal male companion to the mother—so both may move freely through the streets seeking new work. We see the world through the girl’s eyes as she changes gender, is renamed Osama and struggles to keep up her guise while adapting to military training and other new social and religious roles. The punishment for her deception, if discovered, could very well be death.
The film’s close ties with Iranian cinema are evident in its images and mode of storytelling, and Barmak acknowledges Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami as profound influences. Osama is an accessible and devastatingly moving tale of desperation and ambition.

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