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Foreign Oscar Entry Review: Omar (عمر‎)

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
February 20, 2014 4:30 PM
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Hany Abu-Assad's 'Omar'

Omar, Palestine's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : Adopt Films. International Sales Agent: The Match Factory 


There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict. The rules have been set for a very long time, and both sides have their own perception of the situation. What is still intriguing, however, is the way people adapt and live within such parameters, and how life is affected by the occupation, the division, and the perpetual animosity. Director Hany Abu-Assad has been the unofficial cinematic spokesman for the Palestinian cause for some time now. His stories, although set in the midst of the war ridden towns of his homeland, are much more about the emotional scars and the spirit of survival that people there have developed. Omar, his latest tale focuses on a man who finds himself betraying those closest to him in the hope of being with his loved one.

Skillfully used to it and as part of his daily routine Omar (played outstandingly by newcomer Adam Bakri)  must jump the wall that divides the occupied and non-occupied communities. He works as a baker on one side of the wall but his friends and secret girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubany ) live on the other side. In spite of the constant reminders that his freedom is an illusion - Israeli soldiers repeatedly harass him abusing their power- Omar doesn’t have any vengeful plans of his own, his main concern is to get his best friend Tarek (Iyad Hoorani ), also Nadja’s brother, to give him her hand in marriage. Nonetheless, soon enough the seed of violence is planted in him by Tarek and their puny bud Amjed (Samer Bisharat) then they decide to shoot an Israeli soldier as their grain of sand in the efforts of liberation.


After carrying out the deed, Omar falls in the hands of the police and is submitted to less than friendly treatment to coerce him into spilling the truth about Tarek’s whereabouts.  Persuaded by ruthless Agent Rami (renowned Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter), he reluctantly agrees, but, instead of keeping his word, he conspires with his posse to retaliate against the Israeli occupying forces once more. It fails. In custody again and looking at almost a century in prison, he must make a choice. Either he joins the ranks of the enemy as an informant in exchange for a second chance or he accepts a life behind bars never to see Nadja again. 

In this tragic romantic-thriller with Romeo and Juliette undertones, Abu-Assad uses the physical separation as a motif for the conflicting duality Omar experiences. In a land where loyalty is the most valued currency, betrayal is outright unacceptable. But in order to save his life and not be ostracized by his own, Omar is forced to be disloyal to both sides simultaneously. Agent Rami claims his full cooperation knowing he has no other choice if he wants to recover his pseudo-liberty; on the other hand, his compatriots expect the same allegiance on the grounds of their shared suffering and struggles to claim back their land. Therefore, when a loathsome secret is uncovered, Omar’s sacrifices seem to have been in vain and his vision of the future is shattered, an event that shifts the thrilling narrative into full gear leading to an accidental murder and an unexpected, abrupt, but powerful conclusion.

This is Abu-Assad’s second film entirely done in the torn ancient land after his Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning Paradise Now. Analyzing the conflict from a different and less political point of view, Omar is equally compelling. At one point in the film, defeated and tired of running from all the troubles that chase him, the title character is seen crying at the bottom of the wall he has climbed so many times before without trouble. His childhood friendships are now nonexistent and the redeeming strength his love for Nadja once gave him is also gone. There is no community to go back to and he will never be fully trusted by the opposite side. Abu-Assad’s electrifying Omar is essentially a film about an orphan and a foreigner in the place he calls home, to a certain extent that devastating feeling summarizes the troubling Palestinian experience.

Read more about all the 76 Best Foreign Language Film Submission for the 2014 Academy Awards

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