Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Wall Between Us, Literally and Figuratively

Omar (2013) - Abu-Assad
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With Omar, this is the second time Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad is being nominated for an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film category. His previous effort, Paradise Now ended up winning a Golden Globe only. Even if you take away the political aspect, the film works as a superb noir that is as compelling as The Departed or any number of great undercover policiers of the West. Abu-Assad is a great storyteller. He doesn't have to resort to a satire to illustrate his point. Everything feels very real and immediate in Omar. And the 30 feet concrete security wall speaks more volumes about the absurdity of the situation people engage themselves in the Occupied Territories than any political soapbox speech.

If Paradise Now served in telling the world how the Occupation and its debilitating effects make suicide bombers out of people who have been robbed of their dignity, Omar digs deeper into its effects on a personal level and shows how it tears the fabric of the community apart.

The film starts with Omar (Adam Bakri) climbing up the Isreali security wall, dodging bullets parkour style, to get to his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubani)'s house, located on the other side of the wall, still in Palestinian territory. This is a normal, daily routine for him. This is the life of people living in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. He is in love with Nadja, a younger sister of Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) who is the ringleader of a resistance group and Omar's best friend. Omar can't ask her to marry him because she is still in High School and hasn't earned Tarek's respect yet. But he has been saving money, working at a bakery, day in and day out. A man can dream at least, can't he? Omar, Tarek and their childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat) practices their sharp shooting skills and constantly renew their allegiance to the cause against the Occupation.

They put their skills to the test and chooses an Israeli army barrack from a distance and Amjad shoots and kills a soldier. In their minds, this is the beginning of their long awaited dive into freedom fighting. The next day, Israeli soldiers are everywhere and after a long chase through the narrow alleys and over the rooftops, Omar gets captured. He is tortured and coerced. His desperate yell: "I'll never confess!" will be used against him in the Israeli military tribunal and he will serve at least 60 years in prison, if he doesn't tell them who pulled the trigger. He will never see Nadja again. They will never make it to Paris for their honeymoon.

He is released under condition of delivering Tarek (the Israelis think it's Tarek who pulled the trigger). Omar tells Tarek everything and they plan an ambush. Tarek will consider Omar's intentions on Nadja after the ambush. Apparently, Amjad asked for Nadja's hand too. The planned ambush doesn't even take off the ground. With their superior military might, Israelis capture Omar again in minutes. With little damning information from snide Israeli intel officer Rami (superb Waleed Zuaiter), Omar has to make everything right the second time against insurmountable odds.

The film's tragedy is amplified by its young, attractive characters who have a wall between them, literally and figuratively. Omar works as a heart pounding thriller as well as an affecting love story that will leave you a lot to chew on. 

Omar is scheduled to open in NY (Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelika Film Center), LA and other cities on February 21 followed by a national release. Please visit Adopt Films' website to find out more.

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