It was her eyes that caught Sedigh Barmak's attention. The 40-year-old director of Osama, one of two Cannes entries about Afghanistan, needed the right girl to play his lead. Barmak was seeking someone with whom Afghans could identify, someone who would make his audience "feel confident about themselves, to prove to them that they are human again." He combed Kabul's schools and orphanages in vain. Then came a chance street encounter. A young girl in a tattered salwar kameez approached him, begging for money. "Her eyes," says Barmak, "were like...

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