NYFF51 Spotlight: Best Friends, Better Enemies in “Omar”

Posted by Erik Luers on 10.10.2013

Palestine’s official submission for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Hany Abu-Assad’s new film Omar crosses multiple genres. While its pacing often mimics an intensified action thriller, the film is, on a micro level, a story of trust and betrayal, romance and lost love.

Set in modern day Palestine, Abu-Assad gets right to work on the individual details of his characters. Omar, returning to town and working in a bakery, is in love with his best friend Tarek’s sister Nadia. Given Tarek’s ability to instill fear in all who meet him, the couple hold brief romantic meetings and exchange notes out of public view. While Omar and Nadia are waiting for the right time to tell Tarek about their desire to be married however, larger political issues put their personal request on hold.

Throughout the first half of the film, Omar is constantly getting harassed, chased, or graphically beaten by Israeli law officers. Hatred brews deep on both sides. “Every day we wait is another day of occupation,” Tarek remarks when planning a way to retaliate; the men believe themselves to be valiant freedom fighters striving for their country’s liberation. One evening, Omar, Tarek and another childhood friend, Amjad, strike back, carrying out an attack on Israeli soldiers that will result in major consequences for all three—Omar is arrested, viciously beaten, and pressured into ratting out his friends in order to gain freedom. Somewhat remarkably, the film’s plot gets equally familiar and complex from this point forward.

In an interview with WSWS, Abu-Assad noted, “over the last 20 years or so, especially since September 11, I’ve always felt I should do something about trust. The whole capitalist system is trying to create mistrust among people, to set them against each other. Because when you don’t trust each other, you think you need people to protect you, you need cameras to protect you, you need weapons to protect you. I thought, I don’t want to give a lecture. How can I find a simple, vivid story that shows that without trust among human beings there is no friendship, no love, no society?”

One thing viewers of Omar will immediately notice is how tightly the film is constructed and edited. Pacing is key here, and Abu-Assad keeps things moving along at a breakneck pace. Each scene feels clipped at just the right moment, as if the fat were cut off and the amped energy from the storytelling was unleashed as a result. As Omar dashes through alleyways, into homes, and over walls, the film comes most alive. Controversial as the film may ultimately turn out to be, its assuredness is thrilling.

Writing for Slant Magazine, Tomas Hachard remarked "the film is a profound, if dispiriting, companion piece to Paradise Now. In that film, Abu-Assad's characters, feeling bereft of any options, turn to terrorism, a trajectory that left the film open to accusations of being in support of such behavior. In Omar, though, the director is uninterested in the validity of terrorism; the film ultimately portrays Omar's attack as insignificant in its consequences, whereas the Israelis are slowly shown to have an almost indomitable upper hand in their battle with Palestinians. What remain in such an uneven game are the lifelong costs of the struggle, and it's these that point to a harsher truth: At this stage, for Palestinians, the prospects of any exit from hardship are only growing more faint."

Omar:
Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Section: Official Selection
Screens: October 11 at 6:00pm (special $15 tickets available!) + October 12 at 3pm

NYFF Official Description:
A tense, gripping thriller about betrayal, suspected and real, in the Occupied Territories. Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the separation wall to meet up with his girl Nadja (Leem Lubany). By night, he’s either a freedom fighter or a terrorist—you decide—ready to risk his life to strike at the Israeli military with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Arrested after the killing of an Israeli soldier and tricked into an admission of guilt by association, he agrees to work as an informant. So begins a dangerous game—is he playing his Israeli handler (Waleed F. Zuaiter) or will he really betray his cause? And who can he trust on either side? Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) has made a dynamic, action-packed drama about the insoluable moral dilemmas and tough choices facing those on the frontlines of a conflict that shows no sign of letting up.

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