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Siddiq Barmak
Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar, Gol Rahman Ghorbandi, Mohamad Haref Harati, Mohamad Nader Khadjeh
Writing Credits:
Siddiq Barmak

Inspired by a true story, this Golden Globe-winning drama is the first film made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Hailed by critics as "stunning" (EW), "breathtaking" (Slant) and "emotionally charged" (Screen International), Osama is "a striking work of cinematic art" (LA Daily News).

After the brutal Taliban regime bans women from working and forbids them to leave their homes without a male escort, a 12-year-old girl and her mother find themselves on the brink of starvation. With nowhere left to turn, the mother disguises her daughter as a boy. Now called "Osama," the young girl embarks on a terrifying and confusing journey, as she tries to keep the Taliban from discovering her true identity.

Box Office:
$46 thousand.
Opening Weekend
$51.969 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.069 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Pashtu Monaural

Runtime: 83 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/27/2004

• “Sharing Hope and Freedom” Featurette
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Osama (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2004)

With a title like Osama, many might expect the flick in question to present a biography of the infamous Al Qaeda leader. However, this flick – the first to come from Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban – offers nothing of the sort.

Instead, Osama focuses on the plight of the average Afghani during the reign of the Taliban. At the start of the flick, women stage a rally to demand the right to work. This doesn’t set well with the Taliban; they send troops to disrupt the protest with hoses and also arrest some of the women.

A 12-year-old girl (Marina Golbahari) and her mother (Zubaida Sahar) don’t get involved in the rally, but they end up doused by the hoses anyway. The mother worked as a doctor until the Taliban forbade women to have jobs. Now she lacks money or the means to get any; only men can work, and both her husband and brother died in various conflicts.

With this as a backdrop, the mother decides to chop off her daughter’s hair and pass off the girl as a boy. They do this and get her a job in a local shop. She works but constantly fears discovery, especially since the Taliban won’t let things slide without massive punishment. Soon the Taliban cart away all the local boys for religious and military indoctrination. When some kids figure out that she’s a he, a local beggar boy named Espandi (Arif Herati) comes to her defense and gives her a masculine name: Osama.

From there the movie follows her fate with the boys and after that. To put it mildly, it ain’t pretty, as Osama doesn’t paint a cheerful picture.

All of which seems perfectly appropriate. After all, no one ever accused the Taliban of being anything other than cruel, sanctimonious and reactionary. If anything good about their regime existed, I can’t think of it.

Nonetheless, at times Osama seemed like a better concept than a movie. Something like this really becomes difficult to criticize, for the idea behind it seems so strong. Not only does it enjoy its status as the first movie to be made in Afghanistan post-Taliban, but it also seeks to expose the terrible truths of their actions.

And it does so, often in effective ways. The film tells its story without melodrama or theatrics, which lends a verisimilitude to the telling. Some of the scenes are downright creepy, such as the one in which a fat old man shows boys how to cleanse their genitals. The movie also depicts the Taliban’s casual cruelty, such as when Osama gets hung in a well because of a lack of tree-climbing ability.

The film runs into problems mainly as a dramatic piece of work. It doesn’t really attempt to tell much of a story, which makes it a bit plodding at times. In addition, it suffers from some clunky dialogue and weak exposition. For example, when we learn what happened to the men in the family, the filmmakers do so in an unnatural and awkward way. They knew they needed to give us this information, but they didn’t know how to do so smoothly.

Some of the acting lets down the movie as well. The film featured a cast of essential amateurs, and that occasionally shows. Nonetheless, Golbahari does a very nice job as Osama. She refrains from making obvious choices and creates a character with some depth.

Overall, Osama offers an intriguing and sporadically disturbing look at life under the Taliban. At times I think it feels more like a thesis than a movie, and it tries a little too hard to make its points on occasion. Nonetheless, it provides a generally effective view of its subject.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus C

Osama appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found it tough to fairly grade this picture because of issues connected to its production. After all, as an extremely low-budget affair shot in a poor country, I couldn’t expect it to live up to other modern productions. In any case, it presented a mix of positives and negatives.

Sharpness mostly looked good. Wider shots came across as somewhat ill-defined, mostly due to the presence of some mild to moderate edge enhancement. Otherwise, the movie seemed nicely delineated and distinctive. I noticed no examples of jagged edges or shimmering.

Source flaws caused some prominent problems. A few shots looked grainier than normal, likely due to sub-par lighting techniques. A variety of specks, spots, marks and grit also cropped up pretty frequently throughout the movie.

With a very natural palette, Osama produced surprisingly solid colors. The tones consistently came across as rich and vibrant. Given the desolate landscape, we don’t get lots of vivid hues, but the various colors appeared lively and well-defined. Black levels also seemed pretty dense and tight, though low-light situations were somewhat dense at times. Again, a lot of these issues seemed connected to the film’s low-budget production. Had this been a Hollywood piece, I’d have given it a much lower grade, but when I factored in its origins, I felt Osama earned a “B-“.

As with the picture, I needed to consider the production realities of Osama when I rated its monaural soundtrack. Since it came in the original Pashtu, I couldn’t judge the intelligibility of the dialogue. Nonetheless, I noticed no problems with the speech, as the lines sounded somewhat tinny but generally were acceptably clear. The film essentially came without a score, as music very rarely appeared. The score was acceptably detailed but didn’t displau a lot of presence. Effects largely came from the source material, so they seemed somewhat thin and without much depth. However, during a fewer louder scenes, they demonstrated decent dynamics and even kicked in some subwoofer usage at times. Given the nature of the project and the production, don’t expect much from the audio of Osama, but the soundtrack seemed acceptable considering its constraints.

Note that while Osama used player-generated English subtitles, we couldn’t turn them on or off. Whether you want them or not, you’re stuck with them.

As for supplements, all we find is the film’s trailer and a featurette entitled Sharing Hope and Freedom. This 22-minute and 14-second piece presents an interview with director Siddiq Barmak along with film clips. He discusses his early interest in film and his training, origins of the story, the post-Taliban atmosphere toward movies, casting and working with the amateur actors, inspiration for various elements, life under the Taliban and reactions to the film. Too many movie snippets show up, but Barmak offers a lot of pretty useful information. He gives us a good backdrop for the film and helps flesh it out well. Too bad he didn’t record a full commentary, as I expect one would prove illuminating.

The DVD opens with previews for Casa de los Babys and Touching the Void. Oddly, almost all of the audio for the latter came mainly from my front right speaker.

Although it occasionally feels more like a good political concept than a movie, Osama mostly succeeds. Despite some missteps as a film, it presents a fairly powerful and eye-opening piece. The DVD presents decent picture and sound that hold up fine given the conditions under which the film was made. Extras seem skimpy, though, as only a good interview bolsters the set. Osama merits a look and would make for a good rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0434 Stars Number of Votes: 23
4 3:
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