DVD Review of Osama

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/24/06


  Osama is touted as the first film made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and it was shot in Kabul. That should be a warning. Works of art that are touted as the first this or that tend to be bad, their only distinction being their chronological primacy. Such was the case with the atrocious Eskimo film of a few years back called Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. In a sense, Osama is merely an Afghani Atanarjuat. The story is virtually non-existent, save that the Taliban is bad, evil, etc. Can you say duh? Aside from that there is little else. The whole film by director Siddiq Barmak is a mess, the acting- all done with ‘real people’ shows why that fact is manifest, and the whole thing is merely a Right Wing screed- as much a propaganda film for that extreme of Americana as The Motorcycle Diaries was for the Left.

  Is there any backgrounding of the tale? No. Is there any acknowledgement that, as bad as the Taliban were, the drug lords that preceded and followed them were just as bad, if not even more brutal. The putative story follows a preteen girl, whose ‘real name we never find out, but is played by the beautiful Marina Golbahari, who is never convincing as a boy because she is so utterly lovely. For reasons we never find out, or are not told of in the film, this girl whose father has died lives with her mother (Zubaida Sahar) and grandmother and cannot work, because they are women. Now, viewers today know that the Taliban were religious fundamentalist wackos, but in fifty or a hundred years they will be long forgotten in the parade of human repression that never seems to end. Granny, who acts terribly, and can barely recall her lines, is obsessed with telling the girl stories that if she can walk under a rainbow she will become a boy, or vice versa. The girl’s mother works as a nurse at the hospital nearby, and is seen scrounging for payments.

  Meanwhile, we have become acquainted with a boy in the girl’s village who is the local scam artist, Espandi, played by Arif Harati. He is being filmed by a Western journalist as the film opens, and we see women in burkas protesting for jobs. The Taliban comes and hoses them down, ala the pictures we saw of the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s. Yet, this is all the backgrounding we are given. The scam boy then tries to blackmail the girl, now called Osama, into paying him money so he won’t squeal. They do, and Osama goes to work for a family friend who brews goat’s milk. Then, one day, Osama and scam boy are drafted into the Taliban, and scam boy all of a sudden goes noble on us. Is it because he hates the Taliban or because he wants a piece of Osama? We have no clue, as the dialogue empty film ponderously proceeds.

  After several incidents where Osama is nearly exposed- such as an unintentionally hilarious scene where a senile Taliban is trying to teach the village boys the proper way to wash their genitals- the girl tries to prove her boyhood by- no, not dropping her pants and taking a piss, but by moronic Taliban finding out, and as punishment they hang her over a well, where she moans in the cold. Then, she is brought to trial before a Taliban judge, whose another old pervert, and he sentences the Western journalist who took the opening shots of the film to death by firing squad, then does the same to a Western nurse from Osama’s mother’s hospital- except instead of a firing squad dey’s gonna stone da bitch! Whoa boy. As for Osama and her heinous crime? Well, she gets sold off as a wife to an old Taliban named Mullah Sahib. Apparently in the canon of Islamic law there are no prohibitions about Senior Citizen pedophiles molesting prepubescent girls. What ever has become of Osama’s mom and granny we do not know? Would not any mother plead for her child, especially since we know that she knows of her daughter’s being taken to Taliban school, for the neighbor who employed her has been forced to leave for Pakistan?

  These are among the many plot flaws of the film- the utter unreality and non-humanness of the characters’ traits. Do not mothers love with all their heart in Afghanistan? Anyway, at the old ped Taliban’s home Osama meets his other wives, who tell tales of horror about him and are locked into rooms at night. The old ped offers the girl the choice of her very own ‘special lock. When the girl hides the old ped finds her and is intent on deflowering her after he takes a dip in a big bowl of hot water. That’s how the film ends. What the hell?

  Is it an uplifting film? No. Is it a condescending film? At times. Is it a good film? No. It’s merely a hodgepodge of complaints against the Taliban. But, we see no real brutality. Far more violence goes on in your typical Hollywood thriller or slasher flick. Were the Taliban scum? Of course, but they also must have been morons, to believe this film. Yet, if so, why did they take over that country? If all hated them, as the film purports, why did the general populace rise up en mass? If anything, the film shows how utterly slothful and dimwitted most humans are. We know that about America and its political system, but theis film drives hiome the point that laze and stupidity are universal human negatives. And this is the best pro-Western agitprop they could come up with?

  Unfortunately, the film never takes a stand politically, its screenplay is at a junior high school level, with some absurd symbolism- such as Osama jumping rope in prison, that is as hermetic as can be, unless we are to believe that this is the level of rebellion and hatred the Afghani populace can muster? The only good thing is that the film is relatively short- only 82 minutes. The cinematography by Ebrahim Ghafori never enthralls, despite the fantastic landscape of the tale, and the musical scoring, by Mohamhad Reza Darvishi, is standard issue quasi-Arabic stuff that gives absolutely no emotional cues, nor does anything to heighten nor enlighten what is seen.

  The DVD features are simply the trailer and a featurette that’s about twenty minutes long. It gives little insight into the film but allows Barmak to pontificate. Osama is one of those works of art that the PC will praise because it has ‘good intentions’. Sorry, gotta do better with me. Preaching to the choir that those guys (The Taliban, Nazis, Imperialists, Communists, whomever) are bad is not the stuff of great art, but agitprop, which is what Osama is. Unfortunately, it’s not agitprop in the Leni Riefenstahl vein.

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