February, 2004, LOS ANGELES - More persuasively than almost any medium, movies bind us as a global community. Words can connect or divide us with ideas. Pictures can touch or repel us with images. The best movies, however, bond us as members of the human race - regardless of language, race or culture - with images and sounds that embrace us with the understanding that comes from the heart. An astonishing film, "Osama," that comes from the most unexpected place on earth, Afghanistan, is such a film. It is shocking, exotic, brutal, and powerfully moving.

"Osama" is about the condition of women in Afghanistan during the time of the despotic rule of the Taliban. The central character is a young teen-aged girl from a family without men. Her father was killed in the war with the Soviets. Her mother, a doctor, cannot work because she must have a male family member to accompany her wherever she goes. And she has an aged grandmother. It is a family of women - all of whom cannot work simply because of a decree by the Taliban. Under the Taliban, women have to live with their entire body covered from head to toe in a tent-like shroud. They have no visible place in society, no rights, no existence.

In a desperate effort to provide for her family, the teen-aged girl cuts off her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and gets a job at a milk-seller's stand on a busy thoroughfare. With this daring act, her harrowing struggle to stay alive masquerading as a boy begins. The suspicious eyes of the Taliban guards are everywhere. The smallest feminine gesture, a slip of the tongue, the slightest mistake, could expose her. The horrors she endures are both chilling and blood boiling. The suspense is agonizing. The film makes the appallingly cruel and unbelievable world of the Taliban forcefully convincing. The actors are all compellingly authentic.

The camera work captures the arid and menacing setting brilliantly. "Osama" is a violent, heartbreaking, and ultimately profoundly affecting film.

This, as a foreign language film with English subtitles, will probably not get wide distribution. But for a transporting film experience, to better understand the world we live in, and to be truly touched by the human condition, "Osama" is a film well worth traveling even to a nearby city where it might be playing to see.

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