Rating: * * * * (out of 5)
Japanese title: Afghan Zero-Nen
Director: Siddiq Barmak
Running time: 83 minutes
Language: Dari, Pashtu
Opens March 13 at Tokyo Shashin Bijitsukan, Yebisu Garden Place
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Of all the repression that the Taliban inflicted on Afghanistan before being removed from power, their greatest offense was undoubtedly their treatment of women. In a country full of war widows, women were prohibited from working, while no social safety net was put in place to see to their needs. It doesn't take a genius to see the disastrous consequences of such a policy, but when it came to valuing the fantasy of ideology over the reality of everyday life, the Taliban had no peers.

The United States' intervention in Afghanistan in 2002 has been a mixed blessing for the country, with weak followup in economic development, continuing insecurity, a return of warlords and the shadowy Taliban waiting in the wings. But certain freedoms have returned, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better example than "Osama," the first post-Taliban Afghan film.

Director Siddiq Barmak certainly picked a loaded title for his debut film. No, it has nothing to do with bin Laden, but yes, it takes a long, hard look at the injustice and ignorance of Taliban rule. "Forgive and forget" is obviously not a maxim Barmak chooses to live by. And with good reason: Barmak, who studied film at Moscow University in the early '80s before going on to work as a documentary filmmaker for the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen, became director of Afghan Film -- the national film institute -- until the Taliban came to power. In 1996 Barmak went into exile in Pakistan and the Taliban forced Afghan Film to burn all its prints, while also closing or torching all the nation's cinemas.