Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published June 6th 2014
Integrity in a world of endless violence
Director: Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Do Not Forget Me Istanbul, The Courier) Cast: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani, Samer Bisharat
In the opening scene of Omar, we see the title character scale a high security wall, lacerating his hands while dodging bullets from the local militia. All this to visit a friend's house. Welcome to Palestine, where life is full of difficult, life-altering choices.
Adam Bakri as Omar
From the beginning we are immersed into Omar's world, with little explanation as to who is fighting whom. Omar is in his early 20s, spends his time with childhood friends Amjad and Tarek and is secretly in love with Tarek's sister, Nadia. Soon we learn that the three friends are budding freedom fighters ready to take their first steps to strike out against the Israeli forces.
That first blow against the authorities, although clumsily handled, leaves a soldier dead. The next day an attempt is made to arrest the three men, which brings about one of the films impressively shot chase sequences. Without the aid of special effects or any kind of score, these scenes shot through labyrinthine alleys, streets and rooftops are a showcase of great cinematography, editing and stunt work.
Omar is the only one of the three who is captured, and endures various forms of torture rather than make any form of confession. Nevertheless, his fate seems doomed and the only chance of reuniting with his beloved Nadia and his friends appears to be to collaborate with the authorities.
Omar sneaks a private moment with Nadia (Leem Lubany)
Upon release Omar must negotiate all sorts of conflicting loyalties in order to appear to be bringing Tarek closer to the police, while working with Tarek and Amjad to ambush the police. All the while his love for Nadia remains his motivation for all his actions.
What follows is a story with more twists and turns than the maze-like alleys of the West Bank neighbourhood our hero wanders through. The love story at the film's centre is compromised by fragile allegiances, self preservation and various levels of subterfuge.
Director Hany Abu-Assad shows great skill behind the camera, whether orchestrating one of the thrilling actions scenes, or a tender exchange between the two romantic leads. His handling of the actors is especially remarkable considering the cast mainly consists of non-professionals.
Omar on the run in one of the film's impressive action sequences
As Omar, Adam Bakri easily carries the film, he exudes a natural integrity, and even when his face is badly beaten, which it often is, he maintains the kind of leading-man looks that could see him break out into a big star.
in 2006 Abu-Assad's Paradise Now became the first film from Palestine to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. With Omar he has received the country's second Oscar nomination. The film also won a Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and last month was screened at the United Nations.
This is a deceptively complex film, told with great clarity and narrative dexterity. It's an emotionally powerful experience punctuated with the kind of ending that's likely to stay with you long after the final credits roll.