Politics effect everything in present-day civilisation whether one wishes to engage with them or not, but for some it isn’t a matter of choice. There are a few places that are politically infamous on name alone; Korea’s DMZ is one such area, as is the West Bank of Palestine. The latter has long passed the boundaries of religion & politics, emerging as a war of attrition. Writer/Director Hany Abu-Assad has nominated to use this backdrop for his film, Omar – the Palestinian entry for the 86th Academy Awards.
Adam Bakri stars as the titular character, a young man who regular jumps the wall dividing the West Bank to meet his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany), and childhood friends. With these very same friends, he is part of a radical plan to kill an Israeli soldier – a small step towards fighting back at their unjust occupation. All seems to have gone well for Omar, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) & Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) until Omar is arrested and faced with the impossible scenario of spending the rest of his natural life in prison or selling out his friends. Functioning both as a love story and intriguing drama considering the battle between one’s head and heart, Omar is quite the surprise package.
Before his arrest, Abu-Assad depicts the West Bank without any of the violence or complication one would expect from such a hot-blooded area. Remove the wall and the film could be taking place in any Middle Eastern country enjoying a period of relative peace, a stability that aids the narrative’s intensification. When the political establishment is first given form, the three soldiers appear to be nothing more than roadblocks for Omar (Bakri) – after a humiliating incident the harmony resumes, briefly. After an unpolished, but no less, thrilling parkour sequence, Omar (Bakri) is captured and the visage of the film changes across-the-board. With the film opting for a tug of war between a refreshingly chaste romance with Nadia and the torture/impossible quandary he is faced with.
Pride and love define each character in this film, not one role in the film is under-written or overlooked. Even with the Marlon Brando impression there are no weak performances, instead of picking on the fragile links it would be more prudent to pick up on the great ones. Leem Lubany (Nadia) has the most important role in the film, she brings humility. She offsets all the bravura and machismo, as well as providing the film with its most moving moment when Omar and Nadia meet for the first time after the dust settles. Waleed Zuaiter (Agent Rami) is the other acme. He has something of a chameleon role; he is both the voice of reason and the biggest threat to Omar. With every change of direction, Rami offers himself up as a victim of circumstance. The similarity between Omar and Agent Rami is one of the most singular influences behind the confusion of Omar’s plight and the crucial success of the film.
The same feeling can be transmitted to the cinematography. Ehab Assal has framed this part of the world with the honesty of intent that could only come from someone who truly understands what is at stake for these freedom fighters. His lens provides the film with all the evidence one would need for an uprising. Of a less circumstantial light, Assal’s cinematography is nothing shy of striking.
It’s very rare for a Palestinian film to see release in the West, and Omar nimbly borrows a palpable humanity to a state that only receives coverage when widespread anarchy has taken hold. That anarchy is both missing and the biggest issue with Abu-Assad’s film. Here he has crafted a heartfelt human drama born from violence and with that there have been few films released in 2014 that have been anywhere near as captivating. Unfortunately, that same anarchy and violence that defines the West Bank takes hold of the final act, with the director/writer struggling to end as well as he started.
Perhaps the frantic resolution is suggestive of the internal struggle Omar faces, but at the same time Bakri’s violent answer is the very antithesis to the neatly structured script and human drama that Hany Abu-Assad expertly crafted to that point. In spite of the poor conclusion, Abu-Assad’s film is one of the most surprising entries to the 2014 calendar; he depicts the fervour of crusade and the limits of love with supreme skill.
OMAR IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECTED UK CINEMAS (SODA PICTURES)