While watching Siddiq Barmak’s “Osama” (2003), I kept getting thinking about Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal ’60s novel “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

The novel takes place on a planet named Winter where gender doesn’t exist. All of the natives are essentially hermaphrodites; they appear masculine for the majority of the time, but during kemmer (think a menstrual cycle or heat), two people mate and by luck of the draw, one will be a female and one will be male (in a curious side note, if the two reproduce, parental rights and lineage go to the mother).

The novel doesn’t have anything to do with “Osama,” the first movie made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, but I kept thinking of how perfect that world must seem to a culture caught up in ruthless female oppression.

A 12-year-old girl (Marina Golbahari) and her mother (Zubaida Sahar) work at a hospital, eking out a meager subsistence, but when the Taliban close the hospital (and enforce rules about women leaving the home unaccompanied by a male relative), the girl cuts her hair, puts on boys’ clothes and becomes Osama, a boy who can accompany ‘his’ mother places and find work so they can eat.

What surprised me most is the fear that pervades the film; this is not a typical Western heroine, having a glorious time pulling one over on the men in charge. She’s just a frightened child forced into a situation that, if she’s found out, will lead to her death.

Another shocker; I never thought about what ordinary Afghanis, men and women, felt about the Taliban in their country, and “Osama” shows that is wasn’t just the women who suffered. The Taliban was a country-wide plague, loved by no one and feared by all.

“Osama” is a slip of a movie, but it doesn’t need to show more, or be longer, or linger over its subject; the everyday brutality is enough. The message is clear enough for this viewer; it shouldn’t be like that (and at least right now, it isn’t anymore). “Osama” the girl can imagine a world where she’s free, but that world isn’t hers to live in. Because she was born a female in that time and that place, she doesn’t have the luxury of hope; her life was over at birth, which is the saddest subject of all.

 “Osama” (2003)

Written and directed by Siddiq Barmak

Starring: Marina Golbahari (Osama)

Zubaida Sahar (Mother)