Arriving in Geneva this weekend when interest in the oppressive regimes of the Middle East should be at an all-time high, “Osama,” premiering in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House, is the first entirely Afghan film shot since the fall of the Taliban.
The movie, which marks the debut of writer-director Siddiq Barmak, examines the plight of women under the rule of the Taliban fanatics who patrol the dusty streets of Kabul, standing behind mounted machine guns in Toyota pickups while citizens desperately try not to attract attention.
Especially fearful are the women, who are no longer allowed to work and are required to wear all-concealing burkas in public. In an early scene, hordes of these shrouded women, looking like blue ghosts, stage a protest in the streets, chanting, “We are not political, we are hungry!” The Taliban break up the rally with water hoses and guns.
When one woman in a burka is given a ride on a bicycle, a Taliban officer stops the bicyclist and tells him he should be ashamed because the woman's feet are exposed. “Men will be aroused,” the Taliban says.
At the film's center is a 12-year-old girl, played with great naturalness by newcomer Marina Golbahari, but “Osama” isn't about her as an individual so much as what happens to her – and how what happens is indicative of life in Afghanistan under the brutal, repressive Taliban regime.
The girl and her mother (Zubaida Sahar), their heads and bodies shrouded, work at a dilapidated, foreign-run hospital until a Taliban raid causes everyone to flee and the hospital to shut down. Under Taliban law, females cannot work or even venture from their homes without male accompaniment, and now, with the mother's husband and brother having been killed in Afghanistan's armed conflicts, the women are desperate.
So the mother decides to cut her daughter's hair and disguise her as a boy so she can be employed by a sympathetic grocer. The girl is in constant danger of discovery, though a fast-talking beggar boy named Espandi (Arif Herati) helps cover for her by telling people she's a boy named Osama.
The Smith Opera House screens “Osama” at 7 p.m. July 1, 3, 5 and 6. In Dari and Pashtu, this film has a running time of 83 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3 and $2 on Tuesday. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.