Osama (review 2)

Barmak's loosely fact-based story of a family of women forced to invert the Taliban's strict gender order is a stark reminder that some feminists are more equal than others. Laura Wirtz offers her view on Osama.

, 16 March 2004

Film critics are normally pretty dispassionate folks in my

experience – so imagine what it is like being in a cinema

surrounded by their gasps and groans. This should give you some

indication of the emotional devastation that comes from watching

the great film Osama. The summary of writer/director Siddiq

Barmak is that Osama is ‘the story of a little girl and all of

the injustice and religious madness that is carried on her own

slender shoulders’.

The story begins in Kabul near the beginning of the Taliban’s

stranglehold on the remains of that city. The heroine is a

12-year-old girl whose mother is a doctor until the regime

closes the hospital. With starvation as the inevitable result,

the grandmother launches a plan to pass the girl off as a boy

and find her a job in a shop. Soon the Taliban rounds up all

boys and takes them to a Taliban training camp to learn the

Koran, genital ablutions and warfare. The girl’s only friend at

the camp gives her the name Osama. There is some suggestion that

the children will be trained to fight for Bin Laden, but the

story is confined to an inward-looking society that surely

reflects the reality of Afghan isolation at the time if not now.

All the Taliban era signals are here; starving widows,

contraband radios, musical instruments and photographs,

executions and a palpable overriding fear. The girl’s death

seems just moments away for most of the film and her final fate

is absolutely devastating to an extent that is only very subtly

foreshadowed. Comparisons with another depiction of the

experience of women under the Taliban in the film Kandahar are inevitable.

Osama however has none of that films sketchy editing and sound

quality but is beautifully realised by everyone involved

including cinematographer Ebrahim Ghafuri. Barmak deftly

presents the story with respect for the audience’s intelligence

to understand the Taliban’s capacity for violence and misogyny

without pummelling the point home.

Osama has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language

Film and among other awards was the Cannes Youth Jury’s Best

Film. The director returned from exile in Pakistan to resume his

managing role in the Afghan Film Organisation and made this; the

first feature film made in post-Taliban Afghanistan. His

previous films had been destroyed by the Taliban. Osama was

finished in March 2003 and made with a cast of non-actors.

No doubt there are people who would see the story portrayed here

as a vindication of the great war for women’s liberation

recently waged upon Afghanistan, but one should not forget that

the Taliban received nothing but support from the USA while

carrying out atrocities before September 2001. Fortunately we

also have an equivalent work, albeit totally fictional,

depicting the Bush ideology in The Handmaids Tale. I would like

to believe that girls and women are no longer under persecution

in Afghanistan but unfortunately stories like this one are not

yet consigned to history.

Laura would like readers to ignore the copyright symbol at the bottom of the page and treat this review as copyright free.

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