Film Title: Omar
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed F. Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat
Running Time: 96 min
After a brief paddle in the American mainstream, Hany Abu-Assad, director of the powerful Paradise Now, returns to his Palestinian roots with a very effective thriller that spins the head as it presses home its political points. You’ll need to pay attention as the crosses and double crosses accumulate. But the effort will pay dividends.
Omar (Adam Bakri), a young, handsome baker, lives a typically uneasy life in the occupied West Bank. Scaling the “separation wall” becomes a daily inconvenience, as he visits his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubany), makes his way to work, and meets up with similarly disenchanted pals. It’s impossible not to think of Northern Ireland as we watch Omar being harassed by occupying soldiers and drifting that bit closer to an act of ruinous violence.
Omar and two friends hatch a plan to assassinate an Israeli soldier. Filmed in cool, dispassionate fashion (the victim is a distant blob to us and them), the attack is carried off successfully. However, the next day, following a terrific chase down alleyways and through backyards, Omar is captured by the security services. He is beaten, tortured and eventually tricked into a half-confession. Our hero appears to agree to collaborate, but we suspect his intentions are more obscure.
The film does have things to say about the way political violence can waste young lives. We are, however, left in little doubt as to where the film-makers’ ultimate allegiances lie. Abu-Assad’s version of the West Bank is an extended prison camp, where normality is always just out of reach. A few half-hearted efforts are made to “humanise” Omar’s chief interrogator – he’s allowed a family, at least – but the Israelis remain a largely malign presence.
All this heightens the suffocating atmosphere and makes the escalating tension feel that bit more uncomfortable. The end result is a nerve-rattling entertainment flavoured by vigorous, deeply felt polemic. Abu-Assad returns in triumph.