Siddiq Barmak’s Osama is the first film to be made in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s removal from power and, not surprisingly, was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Though the film would have been virtually impossible to make before the U.S.-led invasion in the region, it shouldn’t be seen as a production hand-stamped by the Bush administration. Set during an unspecified time of war, Barmak offers an unrelenting glimpse of what life was like for women under the Taliban. When her mother loses her job at a local hospital, a 12-year-old girl (an outstanding Marina Golbahari) must pretend to be a boy in order to secure work and make money for the family. Now referred to as Osama, the young girl must dodge a series of prickly situations that threaten to expose her womanhood. Osama may seem redundant after Jafar Panahi’s more structurally impressive The Circle or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s absurdist Kandahar, but it’s no less powerful. Barmak’s images are frequently outstanding but it’s his crowd scenes that are most breathtaking. A documentary filmmaker records women in blue burqas engaged in a strike before the Taliban arrives and arrests both the artist and his subjects. Later, the boys at a Taliban training camp accuse Osama of being a girl when a religious elder calls her a nymphet. When she climbs a tree to prove her boyhood, all sound dissipates from the world and it’s as if the little girl with the sad eyes has found a little peace of heaven. But there’s no hiding here and soon she must dodge a rabid attack by a community of boys before she’s sent to the Taliban for punishment. Time repeatedly slows down, and from one prison to the next, she jumps rope to forget (or is it to dream?). In the end, a simple child’s game becomes the ultimate hope for freedom.
You win some. You lose some. Osama is bleak, but Siddiq Barmak's aesthetic is a thing of rare beauty. As conveyed on this DVD, the film's daylight scenes are as luscious as anything you'll see on Warner's Last Samurai DVD: Edge enhancement is minimal and colors are remarkable. Unfortunately, the night scenes are grainy to the point of distraction. The audio comes in the form of a terrible Pashtu mono soundtrack. Dialogue is clear but flat, not unlike the haunting score and sound design (Marina's rope-skipping packs absolutely no punch). If you've seen the film in the movie theater then you know how much of a downgrade this is-or you can listen to the high-powered theatrical trailer for further proof.
In the lovely "Sharing Hope and Freedom," director Barmak talks at length about his obsession with Lawrence of Arabia, life in Afghanistan post-Osama bin Laden and the beautiful eyes of his lead actress. Rounding out the disc are trailers for Casa de los Babys, Touching the Void, Camp, Pieces of April and Bubba Ho-Tep.
A terrible audio transfer, but check out the film and witness the resurrection of Maria Falconetti in the eyes of Marina Golbahari.