Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, Omar is a thriller following a twenty-something Palestinian title character as he tries (and often fails) to manage the political and romantic intrigues that take over his life.
Early on, we see our main man (Adam Bakri) climbing a separation wall in the West Bank in order to visit his childhood friends Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Eyad Hourani). While at the top of the wall, Omar is shot at and grazed. But it doesn’t faze him. That’s just one of many wounds Omar is fated to bear as his life is divided by conflicting allegiances, in both love and war.
When he meets up with his friends, the trio talks on becoming freedom fighters — or terrorists, depending how you see it. They practice their sniping on a microwave oven and plot an attack. Soon after, Omar is seen by authorities climbing a separation wall yet again, and he’s tracked down and harassed by the Israeli soldiers. They make him stand on a rock indefinitely, and then hit him with the butt of their machine guns when he protests. Think of it as the Palestinian struggle, writ small.
With nose broken and bloodied, Omar wants revenge. So he steals a car, picks up his two comrades and they camp outside of some military fort under the cover of night. Since Omar went all GTA and Tarek planned the operation, it’s up to Amjad to pull the trigger. When he does — hitting an unsuspecting solider in the abdomen — the whole thing seems like a prank. They laugh, and run off. The soldier dies.
Meanwhile, Omar has fallen in love with Tarek’s teenage sister Nadia (Leem Lubany). He yearns to marry the high schooler, but he’s unable to put marriage before his new-found freedom fighter status. It’s especially tricky because he has to eventually ask Tarek, who’s become more a leader than a friend, for his sister’s hand. And there’s another complication: Amjad is also crushing on the snow-white, big-eyed beauty.
But just as the film threatens to get bogged down in a hand-holding romance, Omar is captured by Israeli soldiers. In prison, he’s strung up naked like a slaughtered animal and tortured. Worse yet, he’s tricked into saying “I’ll never confess” – which is all the military court needs to put him behind bars for 90 years. Unable to live without Nadia, he agrees to be an informant for the Israelis and turn in her brother. Here’s where things get tricky.
At first, Omar tries to pull a fast one on the Israelis, to win on both fronts: getting out of jail free, and reuniting with his girl. This blows up in his face. Pretty soon, he’s answering to film’s main villain (Waleed F. Zuaiter), the Israeli handler who initially tricked him into confessing. Realizing that he’s in over his head, and that the Israelis know everything about this life, including his love for Nadia, he’s forced to make heartbreaking decisions and question those whom he loves and trusts.
The film’s best features are its writing – the way the story wraps the overlapping plots together – and its ability to surprise. Performances, on the other hand, are mixed. The romance is particularly tepid until late in the film, where there’s the possibility of betrayal.
As with any movie on Israeli-Palestinian relations, politics come into play. The separation wall is a particularly strong image here. We watch Omar scale the wall many times, almost effortlessly, until the end of the film when his life is unraveling and he no longer has the strength. He collapses, weeping by the side of the road. One’s reminded of the aphorism that a house divided cannot stand. The same could be said for a people, or a man. In this case, Omar is divided between fighting for what he believes is his homeland and trying to live a normal life, with all that entails (a marriage, a job, a home, etc.). He wants both, but can’t truly have either.
The movie also suggests that there’s a hopelessness to the struggle of the Palestinian freedom fighter. The Israeli authorities have such close tabs on those they’re watching that they’re like puppeteers, playing with peoples’ dreams in order to bring about desired ends. They appear as conniving, devious villains, which does the film a disservice. Lacking any human quality, all the Israelis in the film become straw men.
While not politically profound, Omar effectively captures a sense of despair and frustration felt by those stuck between a wall and a hard place.
Omar is playing at the Edina Cinema.