While watching Osama, it occurred to me how the dominant shot scale in the few Iranian films–and now this one Afghan film–I’ve seen so far is the wide-angle shot. There are only a few close ups in these movies, and I wonder if that has to do with the self-denying nature of these societies and, more to the point, the aesthetic and psychological effect that living in such societies has on a filmmaker’s sensibilities. Perhaps. In any case, Osama is an immaculately photographed series of living snapshots of Kabul during the reign of the Taliban. The story follows the tribulations of a teenage girl who shears her hair and assumes a male identity (taking on the titular name) so that she can work and earn money for her impoverished mother and grandmother (whose home has been emptied of its men by the anti-Soviet resistance). The director culls together vignettes from a variety of true-life sources, all of which comprise a cohesive study of an intimate human tragedy that, it is clearly implied, is occurring rampantly on a national scale. Writer/director Barmak has an assured grasp of the medium (Italian Neorealism in equal doses with Russian cinema is all over Osama). Sustaining a subdued, often mesmerizing, tone and a rigorously truthful storytelling ethic, he follows Osama’s bitter indignities and rips off the guise of self-righteousness that the Taliban — that gang of infuriatingly misogynistic and exploitative thugs — long kept themselves shrouded behind as they terrorized millions of demoralized and downtrodden people. A wonderful and riveting movie experience.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Siddiq Barmak
Written by: Siddiq Barmak
Cast: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar


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