Starring: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Running Time: 83 mins
Osama (اسامه) is an Afghan film about a young girl who, in order to support her struggling mother and grandmother, is disguised as a boy and sent to work, under the guise of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The horrors of living under the Taliban regime and particularly the plight of oppressed women in the region are well-documented, with a number of films offering eye-opening and devastating accounts of that very fact. Osama, on the other hand, isn’t all that hard-hitting, and while its heavy-going content will certainly grab your attention, it fails to work on an emotional level, with a rather inactive and often frankly dull presentation of a reality that is anything but.
First things first, if you read the plot synopsis above, you’ll likely be reminded of another more recent film, Nora Twomey’s animation: The Breadwinner. In pretty much all guises, both Osama and The Breadwinner tell the same story, that of a young girl disguising herself as a boy in order to provide for her struggling family while living under the tyranny of the Taliban.
In that, there’s a direct comparison between Osama and a film which, in my opinion, is far more adept at getting to the crux of the plight of so many who have lived under the Taliban and other equally repressive regimes. And unfortunately, it’s that comparison that makes Osama seem a little underwhelming and even dull when it comes to telling this story.
Of course, that’s not the whole story, and there are elements of Osama that work brilliantly alone. For one, it avoids melodrama very well throughout, instead giving a more grounded and realistic depiction of hardship, while it also goes quite a bit further with its portrayal of some of the more sensitive and difficult topics that an animated film like The Breadwinner wasn’t quite willing to show.
The lead performance from Marina Golbahari, too, is an impressive one, as she convincingly portrays a young girl who, despite a clear willingness to help her family and those around her, is still largely unaware of and helpless in the face of oppression, only coming to learn more and more about it as she sees the world of men in society first hand.
All of that makes Osama an interesting and certainly heavy-going film, but the fact remains that it’s a little too slow and a little too direct in its portrayal of the realities of life under the Taliban to really grab you emotionally.
With too little focus on character development early on, it’s often hard to watch the film as a narrative drama, with its main intentions being comparable to that of a documentary, yet its screenplay playing out in the manner of a narrative, something that leads to a frustrating amount of empty space that should be filled with more emotional development or even simple exposition.
Overall, Osama isn’t a bad film by any means, and its portrayal of the hardships of life under the Taliban make for intriguing and often heavy-going viewing. However, with a screenplay that fails to cultivate strong emotional depth throughout, it’s a less-than-powerful film that often proves an unfortunately underwhelming watch, particularly given the clear power of its subject matter as demonstrated in other films, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.