Starring: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani
Palestinian Omar (Bakri) puts his life in his hands on a daily basis to cross the separation wall into Israel to join up with fellow freedom fighters against Israel led by his friend Tarek (Hoorani). Another reason Omar is so willing to cross the wall is to see the love of his life Nadia (Lubany), Tarek’s sister. After the three are involved in the murder of a soldier, Omar is arrested and though he did not murder the soldier, he is guilty by association. Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter) gives Omar a simple choice: Spend a life in prison with no way of protecting Nadia or act as an informant for the Israeli authorities to help them arrest Tarek and in return, gain his freedom. Omar initially chooses to be an informant and is so made to choose between protecting the love his life, his own freedom and his loyalty to a cause he believes in.
Though admittedly that may not seem like a story of striking originality, Hany Abu-Assad’s drama is a film that intelligently depicts living in what is very much a contemporary conflict and also ultimately examines the very basic but universal themes of loyalty and love. Omar is a classic love story told in a very contemporary and political setting and in a way that makes it deeply haunting, especially with its very poignant ending.
Despite being set right at the very centre of a highly topical conflict and having an Israeli director at the helm, Omar in no way takes any political or preachy point of view of either side in the conflict we have all seen frequently covered in the news. Abu-Assad simply uses the setting as a vehicle for a narrative, making its examination of love and loyalty all the more emotionally engaging and poignant.
Omar is a protagonist brought to life by an excellent performance from Adam Bakri and his physical performance brings added integrity to a character whose main motivations are to do what is best for the woman he loves. Through the superb performances and Abu-Assad’s effectively naturalistic dialogue we are given true emotional investment in the characters and it is because of this and the unique situation of the protagonist that Omar is a film that grips and engages from start to finish, and we truly care for the protagonist and the increasingly complex situation he finds himself in.
Omar is also an extremely well made film; Abu-Assad makes sure that the style never outdoes the substance, but the tight camerawork and long takes add an effective atmosphere to what is an already highly gripping narrative.
As the narrative develops and Omar’s loyalties get increasingly tested, he is a character that consistently emerges with integrity. In the hands of a lesser skilled filmmaker, the narrative developments could have easily become overbearing clichés, but Abu-Assad is very much in control of his film and the narrative revelations are told in a subtle, but extremely effective way until the film’s emotionally satisfying ending.
Omar is the work of a truly skilful filmmaker who manages to take what is essentially a classic love story, but due to its very contemporary and topical setting, make it one of the year’s most emotionally engaging and rewarding dramas.