Osama, the first movie made in Afghanistan after the Taliban were stripped of power, took home the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Picture. It also failed to even garner an Academy Award nomination. Having seen this film, I can understand why.
Osama is based on the true story of a little girl who has grown up in poverty and under oppression. The Taliban make women's lives a living hell; they cannot even go outside without being accompanied by a man. With her father dead, the little girl, her mother and her grandmother are struggling to survive. So, out of desperation, her mother cuts away her hair and essentially turns her into a boy named Osama. Now, Osama must venture into the world of men to make money, but can she keep her secret hidden from the Taliban?
Why did this movie win a Golden Globe? The answer is this: voters were swayed by the moving depiction of life under the Taliban, and since Afghanistan has been one of the key subjects of the last few years, it was pretty impressive to have a movie come from the ashes. Even more so, it is likely that some see this movie as a step forward for Afghanistan - after all, if they aren't more free than before, how could they produce a movie so critical of their former rulers?
As a movie, though, it is clear why the pickier Oscar voters decided not to even nominate Osama. While it does do a good job of showing the suffering inflicted by the Taliban, it just isn't effective enough to qualify as a powerful drama. It shows what is going on but never goes deeper than that; having seen this, I would have much preferred to watch a documentary. None of the drama is very moving, nor are the characters.
Some may say that a movie based on fact can only be as exciting as real life, but I disagree. There have been plenty of movies made that create some form of real tension or rise above the rest to really jolt the audience; Osama is not one of them. The plot is perfect to capitalize on; after all, it is about a girl pretending to be a boy under an oppressive regime that will have her killed if they find out. From a story writing standpoint, you can't have much more potential than that.
Osama just moves at too slow of a pace with too little going on. In the title character I never found much to root for; I never found a hero to embrace. Obviously, she was brave to venture out under her guise, but the movie never suggests that she fully grasps her situation and takes responsibility for her role in her family. She never ascends beyond being a child, which may or may not be true but regardless doesn't work for the central role of a movie.
The ending is also a little depressing, though also a bit unfulfilling. I would have liked to know more about the true person that this story is based on.
Osama gives some insight into the world known as Afghanistan, a place much different than what most people know. Unfortunately, as a movie, it is not even remotely groundbreaking. Osama had the potential to be an incredibly powerful film, but in the end it feels like nothing more than a vivid recollection of the recent past without any real consideration to story dynamics or character.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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