Osama is a compelling parable about female suffering and religious extremism under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Featuring a cast of entirely non-professional actors, Siddiq Barmak's film is about a widow (Zubaida Sahar) who disguises her 12-year-old daughter (Marina Golbahari) as a boy so that at least one family member can earn money. The child however is dispatched to an all-male Taliban training school, where she's named Osama and where her life depends on keeping her true identity disguised.
From the opening shots, Barmak immerses us in the horrors of everyday life under the Taliban, with burka-clad women who are protesting for the right to work being hosed down by watercannons and herded into trucks. Kabul resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare: shattered buildings billowing black smoke, hospitals without even the most basic of supplies, and a government that forbids women from working outside the home or from walking anywhere without the company of a male relative.
"CONVINCING LEAD PERFORMANCE"
Aided by Golbahari's remarkably convincing lead performance, Barmak generates considerable suspense over the fate of Osama and her female relatives. He also demonstrates real talent for creating images which vividly convey their chilling story. Rituals are shown to be both oppressive - the emphasis amongst the true believers on prayers and cleansing - and, in some cases, comforting (such as the secret wedding ceremony, which is attended by women behind closed doors).
Motifs of entrapment abound, whilst close-ups of shoes highlight the Taliban's fanatical repression of femininity: a woman must cover not just her face with a burka but also her feet lest they prove sexually arousing. Given that the Taliban systematically banned films, including those of Barmak himself, it's fitting that Osama should provide such an unflinching denunciation of its nightmarish regime.