Omar (2013) — Image via adoptfilms.net

Omar

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (2013)

Director Hany Abu-Assad was reportedly inspired to make his latest film, Omar, by a memory from the making of his earlier Paradise Now. Shooting footage in the West Bank, Abu-Assad became convinced that someone on his crew was feeding information about the production to the Israeli authorities. The paranoia that he felt at the time suffuses every scene in Omar, wreaking destruction on lives and relationships by stripping the characters of their ability to trust and be trusted.

The film opens with a shot of Palestinian baker Omar (Adam Bakri) sneaking over the West Bank separation wall to meet with his childhood friends Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). We soon learn that the three young men are part of a resistance cell under Tarek’s leadership and are planning an action against the Israeli military. We also learn that Omar and Tarek’s teenage sister Nadia (Leem Lubany) are secretly in love and want to get married once Nadia finishes school. After Omar and his friends carry out their plan, in the course of which Amjad kills a soldier, Omar is arrested and detained, coming into contact with Israeli intelligence for the first time. Proving resistant to physical torture, he is eventually subjected to more subtle psychological methods, setting into motion the events of the rest of the film.

Omar (2013) — Image via adoptfilms.netConventional narratives about occupied territories tend to divide everyone into patriots and traitors — those who resist and those who collaborate. While the characters in Omar often make reference to this dichotomy, a more nuanced understanding emerges as the film progresses. It becomes clear that many of the people involved in the resistance have, at some point, been in contact with the Israeli authorities, each responding slightly differently to both the threats and the temptations that have come their way. As Tarek implicitly acknowledges when he tells his friends that either of them, or even he himself, could be a “traitor,” it does not take much to cross the fine line between holding Israeli intelligence at arm’s length and betraying the resistance.

This state of affairs takes its toll on virtually everyone in the film. While we are never given any background on how Omar and his friends got involved in the resistance, it becomes clear that they are motivated by a desire for freedom from the frustrations and humiliations of life under occupation. Yet their involvement pulls them ever deeper into a web of manipulation, deception, and distrust. And it does not help that they want so badly to believe that they can build a future for their country while also building futures for themselves — for, as Omar learns when his Israeli handler, Rami (Waleed Zuaiter), makes threats and insinuations concerning Nadia, commitment to the cause and personal commitments are all too easily turned against each other.

Omar (2013) — Image via adoptfilms.netGiven Omar‘s controversial subject matter and Abu-Assad’s clear desire to convey a Palestinian perspective rather than a “balanced” portrayal of the region’s conflicts, the direction and performances are relatively restrained. While melodrama and suspense do appear, they are balanced by more contemplative and open-ended moments. Omar, as portrayed by Bakri, is neither a hero nor a villain; rather, he is an often likeable young man who feels driven to do what are sometimes unlikeable things. He, Tarek, and Amjad all have very commonplace personal flaws, the consequences of which are magnified by the extreme circumstances in which they find themselves. Nadia is perhaps a bit too saintly and naïve, but the scenes between her and Omar are often touching. All told, Omar is a serious and largely successful effort to tell a compellingly human story in the midst of inhumanity.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.