Osama (2003)

Country: Afghanistan

Looking at the title of the film, one immediately assumes that this film is about Osama Bin Laden – but that would be a completely wrong thought. However, even without a mention of Bin Laden, Osama manages to be just as emotionally scarring.

The film follows the story of a young girl (probably of 11 years of age), who has to become the breadwinner of her family after her father is killed. The only other members of her family are her mother and grandmother, both women.  In this strict Taliban regime, women are not allowed to work – which is what puts her mother out of work in the first place. To make sure that they do not go hungry, her mother chops off the young girl’s hair and disguises her as a boy so that she can work with the local milk vendor. Her true identity is only known to her family and to another male friend, who gives her the name ‘Osama’.

However, fate has its say in another manner, and the Taliban come to enlist all young boys. She is scooped up by them forcibly and is trained in military school. But this becomes a disturbing journey for her as she has to protect her real identity – because she knows that if she is discovered she will be killed.

How long can she hide this truth? And does she ever return to her family? Osama leaves you both shocked and disturbed as you undertake the harrowing road to life in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Thankfully this is not a film about how good the Americans are to wage war in Afghanistan, or is not about how evil the Taliban are for their support of Bin Laden and 9/11. This is the story of a young girl, and nothing more.

The acting is top-notch, and Marina Golbahari (Osama) performs completely realistically, making her the ray of light in this otherwise dark and depressing tale directed by Siddiq Barmak.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you would like to watch a film about the effect of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Avoid it completely if you do not want to be depressed. Though this film is not physically violent or gory, it is emotionally draining and distressing.

Phörpa ~ The Cup (1999)

Country: Bhutan

A couple of youngsters wanting to watch the FIFA World Cup may not sound so unusual. After all, most people do that anyway, don’t they? But, what if these youngsters were Tibetan students living in a religious monastery in India?

Phorpa is far from typical Hollywood fare, relying on its unusual, yet delightful story to catch the attention of its viewers. Interesting questions are raised over the course of the film.

First is the Tibetan question itself. This amazing part of the world has seen so much strife over its history, and so many of its people are still scattered all over the world, not knowing whether they will ever get back to their homeland. In spite of this, Tibetans living abroad in countries like India still continue to follow their culture and their religious duties and this is apparent in Phorpa.

Another question is raised regarding the impact of popular culture and modernity over a very old religious way of life. The Lamas discuss whether it is right for the young ones to be pulled in by the material lure of the world cup. Is material pleasure the ultimate source of evil? Or does religion have to give place to modernity as well?

As the film progresses, the young novices try to find a way to watch the world cup. They are forced to rent a TV from an Indian dealer. However, things don’t go as smoothly as planned and a number of problems cause obstructions. However, these problems only test the solidarity of the young students.

There is no action in this film – no catfights or rat races. The film is realistic and visually beautiful. The music, like the film, is completely fresh and unique.

Bhutanese filmmaker/Lama Khyentse Norbu’s film is definitely worth watching for its wit and humour.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it to see the lifestyle and beliefs of Tibetan monks as they try to accept modernity in an old way of life. Also watch it for a heartwarming story.

Avoid it if you are looking for something big to happen every two minutes. Also miss it if you are easily disappointed with subtle climaxes.

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (2007)

Country: Romania

Two friends take a harrowing journey in Communist Romania in order to illegally abort a baby. Cristian Mungiu’s ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ is not a happy story at all. Its images are bleak, dark, devoid of happiness, much like the story of the two roommates.

1987, in an unknown town in Romania, two roommates, Otilia and Găbiţa secretly go about making arrangements to travel to another place for a short time. We discover that Găbiţa is pregnant and wants an abortion. However, there is one major problem – abortion is illegal in Communist Romania and getting someone to do it is even more difficult.

But Găbiţa says she has it under control, and has booked a hotel and has arranged a meeting with a certain Mr. Bebe who is supposed to carry out her abortion. However, things spiral out of control. Everything is even more distressing for Otilia, who is genuinely trying to help her roommate. When Mr. Bebe reveals certain ‘strings attached’ to the abortion plan, Otilia finds herself caught up between her sanity and compassion.

Mungiu won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for this film. The story is not a social commentary. It is not a story about mistreatment in Soviet Romania. It is a personal story of a girl.

If you’re looking for a conventional climax and denouement, this is not the right film to watch. The film is instead depressing, not visually, but emotionally. It is a real mirror into the life of people who are in a position that has changed them completely. Anamaria Marinca, who plays Otilia, perfectly brings out her character’s inner turmoil.

There is no music in this film – because music is absent in the bleakest of times.

Mungiu’s intelligent, yet sensitive understanding of women makes this a film worth a try.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you want to see a realistic, yet depressing film about life in Communist Romania. Also keep an eye out for a roughly 10-minute scene where there are no edits and the camera does not even move an inch.

Avoid it if you don’t want to be depressed. Also avoid it if suspense without action makes you disappointed.

A Moment To Remember (2004)

Country: South Korea

The lure of a touching love story is hard to resist. That is perhaps why many people turn to Korean cinema. There is something about Korean romantic films that creates a warm feeling inside, but at the same time, helps in catharsis. If there is one movie that meets these criteria perfectly, and still stands out as a memorable film in its genre, it is ‘A Moment To Remember’.

A Moment To Remember is the story of a couple from different social classes. When they fight the odds to get married, a shocking twist in fate tests their love for each other. This is the story of love’s fight in the face of adversity, and the emotional tale of enduring love.

Son Ye-jin and Jung Woo-sung play the protagonists and make a realistic ‘in-love couple’. Woo-sung’s seeming stoicism and Ye-jin’s cherubic personality clash, but this contrast is what gets this film’s point across. You can be very different in terms of social standing and personalities, but love knows no bounds.

The film, directed by Lee Jae-han, is an engaging one and will keep viewers interested in love stories engrossed. While the first third of the film takes on the form of a romantic comedy, that ‘mood’ soon dies down, and more serious matters come to the forefront.

The acting, by two of South Korea’s famous actors is noteworthy, and they are convincing in their roles. The film is structured well and flows coherently, highlighting apparently unimportant details in the beginning, which end up making sense as the story progresses.

The film does get melodramatic at points, but it does not ruin the overall experience.

A Moment To Remember is shot well and though the cinematography is not brilliant, it works for the film. The music plays out as a companion piece to the film, but is not exceptional as a standalone soundtrack.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you like to ‘indulge in’ emotional love stories every now and then. Also watch it if you’re trying to get yourself to cry.

Avoid it if you think romantic films about enduring love are just not for you. Also avoid it if you would pick action over drama any day.

Svani (2007)

Country: Georgia

Not many people know that there is a country in the Caucasus named Georgia, because there is a US state with the same name that is more popular. However, for those who do know, Georgia is a country with rich culture and history, being the second country in the world to adopt Christianity as the state religion. It is also known in mythology for being the country (then called Colchis) where Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece. Apart from that, Georgia had been a part of the USSR until its independence in 1991.

Georgia also has a very old cinema industry – one that unfortunately goes unnoticed in the wider world. However, one film that might have gained some international exposure in the recent past due to its projection during some film festivals around the world is Svani.

Svani depicts life in Georgia (not mainland Georgia mind you) but in a remote part of Georgia known as the Svaneti region. The Svaneti (which coincidentally is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is known for its ancient race of inhabitants called the Svans. Their watch towers are as old as hundreds and hundreds of years, and Svan society is generally closed from the rest of the world. What makes this group of people more enigmatic (and scary) is their practice of blood revenge.

Now at this point, this may sound like an alien culture for many uninitiated non-Georgian filmgoers. However, one of the main points of appreciating films is understanding the culture depicted in them. And if viewed with similar appreciation, this film will definitely turn out to be quite a gripping one.

Since the film is about the Svans, expect blood revenge to be a main theme. The ‘background’ of the story is encapsulated in the following words which appear after the opening credits: “When it became dark in the gorge of Mulakhi, a white angel would descend from the mountain of Tetnuldi to the Jachvliani family tower. The residents of the tower would begin praying. The angel protected them until those who lived in the tower killed a man from another tribe. Since then, the white angel has never been seen.”

Ironic that such a beautiful place becomes godforsaken because of an act of violence – and the film makes this contrast pretty clear.

Soso Jachvliani and Badri Jachvliani are the directors of this film, and Badri Jachvliani plays the protagonist who falls in love with a Russian woman and brings her to the Svaneti. But family feuds and vendetta take centre stage and form a sharp contrast, making the beauty of the Svaneti seem cruel in some ways.

There is a lot of beautiful imagery and there is a lot you can learn about Svan culture and traditions just by watching the film.

Chabuka Amiranashvili’s score is captivating, and complete perfection for the beautiful rolling hills and watch towers of Svaneti.

The film is visually spectacular, with on-location shooting done at the Svaneti acting as one of the strongest points. The film may not be one of the best ever made, but it is indeed a captivating watch and provides a non-Georgian film aficionado with a lot of information about the Svans.

This film needs to be watched with an open mind because blood revenge does not always sound like the most normal thing to do.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it to gain insight into another culture, and for the marvellous scenery. The music is also brilliant.

Avoid it if watching cultures alien to you makes you uncomfortable. Also avoid it if you are not too keen on watching something about blood revenge (because this is the main theme of the film).