Winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival this year, Omar is a courageous film which presents a compelling insight into Israeli occupation
Both tender and brutal, Omar is a love story set in the context of cruel Israeli occupation. The effect of one over the other leads the movie through tense, heart-breaking trajectories, showing with every development in Omar’s personal life, the domination of the overall political situation and the choices given to those individuals living under it. The choice is stark – collaboration with the enemy or loyalty to the Palestinian freedom struggle.
Set in the West Bank, the opening scene shows Omar ducking Israeli bullets as he climbs over the wall. Often likened to the Apartheid Wall, it is enormous and intrusive, a weapon of mass separation. Throughout the movie, Omar scales the wall repeatedly to avoid the lengthy checkpoints that otherwise separate him from his friends: Amjad, Tarek, and Tarek’s sister Nadia, Omar’s love. During one such scaling of the wall, he is viciously humiliated and attacked by Israeli soldiers.
Amjad and Omar are in training under the guidance of Tarek who is the more experienced resistance fighter. One evening they shoot an Israeli soldier, and from this moment onwards, the escalating tension continues throughout the film. Omar is arrested and tortured in dark prison dungeons by the Israeli intelligence who want a confession and information about his accomplices.
With the threat of 90 years in prison hanging over Omar’s head, Rami, his Israeli handler, exploits Omar’s love for Nadia to pressure him into collaborating with the soldiers. Rami’s character is well developed; a non-discerning view might mistake him as a good person with a bad job. He is portrayed as being a reasonable man, a father with family relations much like any other human being, and he speaks fluent Arabic. (Remember, even the Godfather was also nice to his grandchildren.)
The suspense of whether or not Omar will betray his friends and the Palestinian cause is overwhelmed by a feeling that there is almost no exit for people like him and the Palestinian population in general. Under Israeli occupation, he remains forever susceptible to constant demands for collaboration. Every move he makes in his personal life has the stamp of occupation hovering over it like a dark cloud.
Shown at the Cannes film festival in France earlier this year, Omar won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, the third most important prize at the festival after the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prix. The audience gave Omar a standing ovation.
Director Hany Abu-Assad received an academy award nomination for his film Paradise Now in 2005 and some critics see Omar as a sequel to that film. Abu-Assad compares it to the love story within Shakespeare’s Othello – a tragic tale of racism, love and betrayal which leads Othello to kill his wife Desdemona because he is convinced she is being unfaithful. Abu-Assad claims to shun making overtly political statements in his films, but the criminality of the occupation percolates through nonetheless.
The full cast of Omar is Palestinian and the overwhelming majority of the money to produce the film, some say as much as 90 per cent, has come from Palestinian donors. They are proud to make a film that is independent of European support and influence. Palestine has selected it as their entry in the upcoming Hollywood Oscars for best foreign film.
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