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Film review: Osama

Published: Thursday, April 29 2004 1:40 p.m. MDT

Marina Golbahari stars as a young girl forced to pose as a boy named Osama in "Osama," the first Afghan film since the fall of the Taliban.

Wahid Ramaq, MGM

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The title alone will probably scare U.S. audiences away from "Osama." The obvious implication is that it's a film about — or worse, a propaganda piece for — America's most hated fugitive.

Then there are the subtitles, which turn off many moviegoers in this country. It's clear that the film has a lot of misconceptions to fight against if it's going to win them over.

As flawed as it is, the film is worth the effort. For one thing, as the press notes say, it's the first "entirely Afghan film shot since the rise and fall of the Taliban." And for another, it offers valuable insights into a foreign culture that few of us have more than a cursory knowledge about.

In particular, "Osama" examines the treatment of women in Afghanistan and how the presence of the Taliban still influences it. The focus is on an unnamed girl (Marina Golbahari) and her mother (Zubaida Sahar), who are struggling to make ends meet.

The two have lost their hospital jobs (with the Taliban in control of Kabul, no women are allowed that "luxury"). So the mother cuts her still-boyish daughter's hair and tries to find her work.

She's taking a huge risk. If the ruse is discovered, they could both be put to death. Worse, the local Taliban leaders decide to round up all the of-age boys for training and indoctrination. So guess who's "drafted?" Yep, the girl, who's been claiming to be a boy named Osama.

Though the film is less than 90 minutes in length, at times it's filled with seemingly pointless digressions, such as a lengthy discussion of male hygiene that seems to go on forever.

Also, by using newcomers and non-professionals for his cast, filmmaker Siddiq Barmak may have been striving for authenticity, but not all of the performers seem comfortable in front of the camera.

Yet for all that, the film has lasting, powerful moments — especially the ending, which will stick with you for some time.

"Osama" is rated PG-13 for violence (riot suppression, much of it overheard), vulgarity (frank talk about male anatomy), scattered use of profanity (mostly religious based), and a scene of torture. Running time: 83 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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