Saturday, March 10, 2007

Osama, a film by Siddiq Barmak

Osama is the first film to be made in Afghanistan since 1996, when the Taliban came to power. When you hear that a feature film has been made in Afghanistan, you’re of course tempted to ask the question, How? Where does one of the world’s poorest countries get the money and know how to produce a film? Apparently, Osama only cost some $46,000 US dollars to make. All of the cast are amateurs, frequently found off the streets.

Well, you’d never know. This film, with such a miniscule budget, puts to shame all those mega budget Hollywood films. It’s wonderfully photographed and edited and has an almost poetic cinematic language. I frequently found myself quite absorbed with some of the beautiful imagery.

Writer-director Siddiq Barmak, after wrestling with his conscience, decided to study film at the Moscow Film Institute, receiving an M.A degree in cinema direction in 1987.

I wonder how controversial this is with Afghans, seeing Russia had invaded the country in 1979, and occupied Afghanistan until 1989. This occupation caused some 5 million Afghans to become refugees. In essence, this director learnt his film vocabulary from the occupiers of his country. In an interview with the director on the DVD Barmak says how much he got out of watching and studying Russian cinema.

The film is based on a true story. A girl, at the urging of her mother, dresses as a boy in order to get work and feed her now all female family (husband and brother were killed during the Soviet invasion). Under the Taliban, no female can leave the house without a male escort. Too bad if there are no men in the family. So it was either starve or resort to transvestism. The Taliban, on a recruiting drive, force the young girl to train for the military. Of course it’s only a matter of time before she’s found out.

Yes, it’s a pretty bleak subject, but the way it’s handled it’s so absorbing. We’ve read here and there about the Taliban and how they treated women – and men for that matter too. To see these events dramatised, with Afghans playing the roles, all shot in Afghanistan, is to enter an entirely different world, one so tragic and hopeless.

I don’t know what I expected before plopping Osama in my DVD player, but I was most pleasantly surprised. If you want a compelling look into life under the Taliban in Afghanistan, what the religious ideology and its treatment of women has done to all people in the population, then grab this movie.

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