2014 Opening Film
$20, No Passes Accepted *
In Palestine’s first Oscar nominated film; all is fair in love and war. No film in recent memory unpacks this cynical, familiar sentiment with as much gusto and truth as Omar. In the West Bank, the handsome Omar (Adam Bakri) is an apparently uncomplicated baker in love with his childhood friend Tarek’s (Iyad Hoorani) sister. So, Omar is a love story? Or is it a war story? A political statement? A simple thriller? Like the enormous border wall that separate the lovers at the heart of Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, the truth is somewhere in between.
No one and nothing should be taken at face value in Omar.
The ebb and flow of daily life in the West Bank unfolds before us. Remarkably ordinary in many respects. Yet there is that wall. Routinely, Omar bravely and recklessly embarks on impressive acrobatic excursions over the border wall. He ostensibly does this to visit Tarek on the other side. But, in truth, his destination is Tarek’s elusive, beautiful younger sister Nadia. The norms of courtship relegate the young lover’s relationship to surreptitious notes and furtive, secret meetings. After one such visit, Omar is detained by Israeli soldiers. He eventually is free to leave, but not before one of the soldiers abuses his power by forcing Omar to (mildly) humiliate himself in the middle of the road. The implication is that the constant reminder of his powerlessness is beginning to wear on him- and young men like him.
None of the protagonists seem to be particularly radical. Or religious. Yet, some evenings Omar, hot-headed Tarek and insidious, yet inept, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) practice shooting at inanimate targets with semi-automatic weapons as part of their training in the resistance. Even this seems to be rather commonplace. But they just aren’t very good at it. We believe that these goofballs cannot be taken seriously as “freedom fighters.”
The unraveling begins on the evening they replace a dummy target for a real one. This act cannot go unanswered. After a heart-pounding chase sequence, Omar is apprehended days later by Israeli authorities.
While in prison, he is brutally interrogated. The unsophisticated young man is ultimately “tricked” into admitting his participation in the incident. He is left with no good options. Israeli Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter) offers him a devil’s deal: Inform on his cohorts and gain freedom, perhaps with Nadia, perhaps with a visa to a foreign land.
Or rot in prison.
Omar’s choice unleashes a storm of plot and character twists. At the heart of everything is Omar’s longing for Nadia. However suddenly, everyone’s motives are nebulous. Character backstories may now be fiction. The seemingly incorruptible is scrutinized. Even love itself may be a delusion. Paranoia and intrigue pervade every frame. Omar’s final confrontation seems the inevitable conclusion of his character’s arc.
But… wait for it… the final image…here comes the gut punch.