Actors Waleed Zuaiter and Adam Bakri. Photo: Irene Cho
There's a dramatic divide separating a young Palestinian from the woman he loves in Hany Abu-Assad's new film, Omar. Under constant threat of being caught, or even shot, the title character can only reach his love by scaling the tall West Bank wall that separates the two lovers. His trips back and forth to see her immediately enhance the tension in the opening act of the film. Young and athletic when we meet him, Omar is constantly on the run trying to evade authorities and hoping to make it over and back home safely.
Eventually, Omar crosses paths with an Israeli agent who wants information from inside Palestine and the two strike a tenuous bond.
"The Israeli agent and this Palestinian kid… they actually do form a very unique and kind of unusual relationship," explained Waleed Zuaiter, the actor who plays the agent (and is also one of the movie's producers), during a Cannes interview with FilmLinc Daily Buzz.
Adam Bakri plays Omar, a baker, and described him as a regular guy during the Cannes conversation.
"The only difference between him and a guy who lives in New York," Bakri said, "is that he lives under occupation—he lives in an occupied land."
Omar is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, well known for the recent film Paradise Now, and adding in the element of the occupied land, of course, intensifies the conversation.
"It was very important for us not to make a political film," Zuaiter clarified. "It was very important for us not to hit people over the head and to just make a very character-driven story where people are emotionally invested in the characters."
Part of that meant finding a way not to demonize Waleed Zuaiter's special agent characte,r who is constantly on the hunt for Omar. In fact, Zuaiter and Bakri explained, they hoped to build complex characters that audiences would sympathize with.
"What is unique to me about this relationship," Zuaiter added, "[is] it’s not anticipated and not stereotypical."
Omar and the agent have flaws that are apparent to the audience. Neither is painted exactly as the audience might expect.
"I have to say, it was very important for us not to portray [him] with any kind of stereotype or to create him as some kind of monster—as this enemy," Zuaiter said of his character, "but to just kind of bring out the humanity in these characters, and their relationships."