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Osama (2003) – DVD Review

DVD cover art for Osama


Written & Directed by Siddiq Barmak
Cinematography by Ebrahim Ghafuri
Starring Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Mohamad Nader Khadjeh, and Mohamad Haref Harati


  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Interview/featurette with the director

Released by: MGM
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Do the world a favor, and see it.

WARNING: This film contains images of child abuse, emotional abuse, and off-screen rape.

Pic from Osama

Osama, famous for being the first film made after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is based upon a true story. The movie is set before the Taliban loses power and concerns the laws forbidding women to work and to leave their homes without a male escort. Faced with poverty, the very real possibility of starvation, and the inability to work for a living to redress this, the mother of a twelve-year-old girl dresses her daughter as a boy and re-christens her “Osama,” and sends her new “son” into the workforce. The film then follows Osama as she attempts to fool the Taliban soldiers…who would of course kill her if they find out her secret.

The film is very affectingly acted, paced, and plotted. Viewers who hate reading subtitles may be disappointed that this film wasn’t dubbed, but English voices in Afghani streets wouldn’t sound right at all. The original language lends a reality to the scenes that might be missing if a foreign language were forcibly inserted. The sound quality is very good, with a nice balance between the background sounds, the primary actors’ voices, and the sound effects, even in the crowd scenes.

Pic from Osama

The visuals are similarly stunning. The opening scenes of a wave of blue-robed, burka-wearing women, protesting, waves of them only wanting to support their families, will stay with you for days. The rest of the film is also a cinematographer’s delight, from the angles showing the lock of hair in Osama’s room after she’s cut her hair to the three locks offered to Osama by the Mullah. The acting is marvelous, subtle and perfect. Marina Golbahari is incredible as Osama, as is Espandi, the boy who acts as Osama’s protector when the other boys start to suspect she’s not a he.

Not being Muslim, I cannot say for sure whether or not the film is biased against them, but the film seems to me to direct all of its bile toward the Taliban, and not towards Islam, even fundamentalist Islam, per se. We all know that extremists of any variety–Christian, Muslim, or non-religious–are dangerous, and this film just shows that. It also, however, shows the quiet heroism of the people faced with this pain on a daily basis.

One of the two features is the original theatrical trailer, but the other is an interview with the director that discusses many events within the film and provides a great deal of insight into the filmmaking process, as well as what Barmak had in mind as he made the film. A commentary with him would have been nice, but this interview provides much of what would have been in such a commentary.

Watching the film may not make you want to support American participation in a war, but it will convince you, if you needed such convincing, that something must be done for the women and children. There is nothing about their suffering and their strength that I can say here that the film cannot say better, but suffice it to say that anyone who thinks they have it hard, especially spoiled Westerners, needs desperately to see this film and then do some research about the continuing degradation and abuse of women and children in Afghanistan. Do not see it as a political film, as it was not intended to be such; see it as a film about the human spirit, and that it definitely is.

Anyone interested in learning more about the current state of life for women and children in Afghanistan is invited to consider the website of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.