I had trouble sitting still through Siddiq Barmak's "Osama." The film gave me goose bumps of slow quiet horror as a family of three women tries to survive in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. At the start of the film, a crowd of of burkha-clad women congregates only to be broken up and herded into cages. Among them is a prepubescent girl, hungry, meek, and scared by her mother's desperation.
The first film to be shot in Afghanstan since the fall of the Taliban, Barmak's storytelling makes daily life in impoverished community incredibly vivid. There are those red, dust covered roads, women wearing heavy burkas that conceal their very humanity, and the insidious presence of the Taliban, who are often not shown on camera, but instead heard only as commanding voices -- rendering their position that much more frightening. I sat in the plush screening room and tried to figure out how the events of this film could take place simultaneously with the events of my much more comfortable existence. In this strange movie world -- which I could not forget depicts reality -- women cannot leave their homes without their husband. They cannot work. They cannot expose their faces. Not even a bare ankle can be revealed.
The Osama of the film's title is a girl, disguised as boy to earn a living to save her mother and grandmother. She is given her name by a former street urchin who befriends her when they are both forced to attend a training camp run by the Taliban.
The salvation of her family is a heavy burden placed on one little girl's shoulders, and she does not rise to the occasion. Given that films are often based on extraordinary stories, I had great expectations for our little heroine, a dark eyed girl with an intelligent, sensitive veneer, but sadly, she turns out to be less than exceptional. Forced to climb a tree, she weeps when she reaches the top, petrified and unable to climb back down. I wanted to scream at her: Look, your life is at stake, stop crying and climb the tree like a boy. But our Osama is hopeless, and alas, so is her situation.