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MGM Studios DVD presents
Osama (2003)

"They won't suspect you're not a boy. People always believe their own eyes."
- Grandmother (actress unknown)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 25, 2004

Stars: Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar
Director: Siddiq Barmak

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:23m:04s
Release Date: April 27, 2004
UPC: 027616908094
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+C- B-

DVD Review

During a time when many question the moral implications of forcing change within a region, Siddiq Barmak's Osama shows us the conditions of life in Afghanistan under the crushing heel of the Taliban. This group, with its radical fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, ruled the south Asian country through fear, terror, and prejudice. The Taliban openly enforced the subjugation of Afghanistan's female population; women were not allowed to work, go outside their homes without a male escort, or even expose any part of their bodies to the elements. Violation of these strict mandates led to dire consequences. Some were imprisoned. Others were married off to a high-ranking Mullah, whose house is filled with wives locked in their respective rooms. Most faced death. How could such a brutal society exist in this modern age?

This is the environment in which one 12-year old girl has grown up. Her mother and grandmother are her only source of guidance and protection. Her father was killed during a recent war, leaving the family to fend for themselves. Without a male to act as bread-winner, a family living under the Taliban faces starvation and relentless poverty at every turn. They make no distinction for those who have seen misfortune—without a male figure to accompany you, walking down the street means risking death. How is one expected to make a living?

To survive, it is decided to disguise the young girl as a boy so she can find work and begin supporting the family. They cut the young girl's hair and dress her in her father's clothes. Now named Osama, the young, terrified child must avoid detection while working grueling hours. Before long, the Taliban conscripts Osama into training with other young boys, teaching them their radical ideology, which ranges from military training to the proper way to bathe. Amidst these dangers, Osama must find allies to help her remain hidden, or all may be lost.

Despite the title, this film has nothing to do with the despicable criminal behind the tragedy of 9/11. It is more of an attention getter, and a strategic one at that. The first film made in Afghanistan after the Coalition invasion and the fall of the Taliban, Barmak's brave work reveals with head-shaking detail the injustices and cruelty that the former regime perpetuated. Some of this is very difficult to watch, echoing portions of Schindler’s List. His style is appropriately documentary-like, beginning with a sequence that takes place entirely in first person. We are the observer. Some portions are a bit amateurish, but overall, this is a well-executed film that contains some amazing, yet harrowing imagery.

Performances vary. For the most part, the entire cast is composed of non-actors from the towns of Afghanistan. They do a serviceable and honest job—the film, after all, is depicting a situation that was not uncommon during the years spent under the Taliban jackboot. They know the struggles of their people and how to express their feelings surrounding these events. The real standout is of course Marina Golbahari's stunning portrayal of the lead. Her innocent, nymph-like face emotes volumes. Words are not needed. Her eyes speak loud and clear.

It is sad that it took a tragic event on American soil to instigate change in Afghanistan. Even though all governments do not have to be alike, there is a line that cannot be crossed. When a system openly subjugates, tortures, murders and oppresses, action must be taken. When human rights and basic universal goods are being violated, even within the realm of "cultural norms," change must take place. Freedom is essential to human flourishing. Granted, without rules, there is chaos, but what are the rules enforcing? Are we not better off without regimes such as the Third Reich and the Taliban? This powerful film will make the answer clear.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM's transfer is surprisingly good, considering the film's budget. Detail is solid, as are black levels and the distinctive earth tones that dominate the picture. There is some grain and edge enhancement to deal with, along with some minor motion "jaggies." Nevertheless, this is a very fine image.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio does not fare as well. Presented in the original Pashtu mono track, the audio suffers from poor recording quality. Hiss can be heard at times, and voices seem quite muted. The sparse musical score comes through well, but for such a recent film, this is quite a lackluster presentation. Granted, the resources available were probably not the best.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (burned in)
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Camp, Pieces of April, Casa de los Babys, Bubba Ho-Tep, Touching the Void
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Aside from a few theatrical trailers, the one major extra is a lengthy interview with director Siddiq Barmak. Entitled Sharing Hope and Freedom (22m:15s), the director shares some very personal stories surrounding his life, interest in cinema, and the making of the film. Barmak clearly has a passion for film, as do many in Afghanistan; When the Taliban fell, cinemas were opened for the first time in years. Audiences that packed in to see the latest musical from Bollywood were dancing in the aisles and on stage, embracing freedom through film. His joy in describing this moment is palpable. Other topics include casting, crew, financing, reactions in Afghanistan and the current status of his home country.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Siddiq Barmak's powerful portrait of the Taliban's destructive hold on Afghanistan is an eye-opening experience. Through the terrified eyes of a child, the brutality of the former regime is brought to life. MGM's DVD offers fine video quality and a substantial extra. This film is a dark journey, but an important one to take.


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