February 4, 2005 -- This first film out of post-Taliban Afghanistan tells the story of a girl who pretends to be a boy in order earn money for her starving family. Under the corrupt rule of the Taliban, women are not allowed to work, or to walk about unescorted by a man. If you are a woman whose husband is dead, that nice little Taliban rule may cause you and your family to starve to death.
This is exactly the case in a family where all the men have died. There is nobody left in the family allowed to earn money, even though the mother (Zubaida Sahar) is a doctor, so her 12-year-old daughter's hair is cut short and she is given the name Osama (played by Marina Golbahari) and a man's clothing. She is told it is her new job to pass herself off as a boy and to become the family's only legal breadwinner. Osama's wise old grandmother tells her she can do it because there is not much difference between boys and girls after all, despite what the Taliban say.
If you are expecting a story about a spunky girl who has an interesting adventure passing herself off as a boy, you are mistaken. It is a desperate situation that Osama is emotionally ill-equipped to handle, and it gets worse.
The film has an almost documentary feel about it. In many cases, the roles are played by real street people, not actors, including the remarkable boy, Espandi (played by Arif Herati) who becomes Osama's best friend and defender in the movie. The photography is quite good and the acting earnest. The film appears to have been made on a microscopic budget, however, as the director resorts to off-screen dialogue from unseen actors to fill out a number of scenes.
The film stands as an eloquent reminder of why at least half the people in Afghanistan, the women, are better off now that the Taliban are out of power. It also shows the men weren't all that well off under Taliban rule, either, being deprived of the skills of half of the population. This film rates a B.
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