DIRECTOR: Hany Abu-Assad

CAST: Adam Bakri, Eyad Horuani, Leem Lubany, Samer Bisharat, Waleed Zuaiter


RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes


HANY Abu-Assad’s Omar has an intensity that many Cold War spy films lack. It is a story of spy craft and betrayal but this time, the setting isn’t Berlin or London.

The film unfolds in the present, in the heart of occupied Palestine. The screenplay expertly inter-weaves personal and political elements. This is at once a coming-of-age drama, a romance and a thriller that combines multiple reversals and plot twists with chases and action sequences.

There is also a documentary-like aspect to its portrayal of a divided and occupied Palestine in which the lines between everyday family life and political struggle have long since become blurred.

Abu-Assad doesn’t skimp on showing the brutality of the Israeli military, but many of the most shocking acts of violence are perpetrated by the Palestinians.

Omar (Bakri) is first seen scaling the “isolation wall” that was built to protect Israelis from Palestinian “terrorists”. The reason he is climbing the wall as bullets whistle round him is simply to visit his friend Tarek (Horuani), whose sister Nadia (Lubany) he is courting.

It is typical of Abu-Assad’s approach that Omar’s acrobatics, which we suspect will be the prelude to a bombing or an assassination, end up with nothing more sinister than the protagonist meeting his friends .

Tarek and Omar shoot the breeze as if they’re Palestinian equivalents to the carefree young bucks on the verge of adulthood in Barry Levinson’s Diner.

Of course, there is nothing ordinary about their lives. We see Omar harassed by Israeli soldiers. He and his friends have no freedom of movement. Bristling against the restrictions placed on them, they have become “freedom fighters”.

When they are involved in an act of violence against the Israelis, the retribution is swift. They are faced with torture and imprison-ment. The only chance to save themselves is to turn informer.

Abu-Assad has a flair for action.

We see Omar leaping across buildings, hurtling down stair-ways and trying to blend into crowds as the Israeli security forces come after him.

Abu-Assad, though, is always ready to confound expectations. One of the most sympathetic characters is Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter), the Israeli security agent who tries to get the Palestinians to turn against one another.

There is one very poignant scene in which this seemingly sinister figure calls his mother to ask her to pick up his child. He is at work “and stuck in the middle of the f***ing West Bank”, which makes school pick-up a challenge.

A more conventional film would simply show Rami as the villain. Instead, Abu-Assad portrays him as a cultured man.

This is a film in which everyone turns out to be deceiving everyone else. “Never confess” is one of the sacred principles of the freedom fighters but, we soon discover, there are degrees of treachery.

The deception extends into the most intimate parts of the characters’ lives. When Omar wants to see Nadia, he often has to hide in the shadows. Lovers aren’t honest. Childhood friends keep secrets from one another or spy on each other. The paranoia mounts.

Everyone knows there is an informer in their midst, but it is well-nigh impossible to identify where the leaks are coming from.

One reason that Omar is so effective is that it feels real. The director is portraying a world he knows from the inside. He shot the film partly in Palestine with a mostly Palestinian crew and cast.

Another of the film’s strengths is the way it tones down the polemics. The situation its characters face is self-evident. The Palestinians are living under occupation. The Israeli soldiers are subject to the constant threat of violence. There is no need for speechifying to point out either side’s predicament. A simple shot of Omar clambering over the huge isolation wall visit his girlfriend is more eloquent than any mono-logue in expressing the character’s yearning and desperation.

The film combines moments of lyricism with scenes of torture and violence. Such shifts are intentional.

Abu-Assad is just reflecting the ever-changing nature of his characters’ lives in an environ-ment in which betrayal is endemic. – The Independent

If you liked Paradise Now or The Past you will like this.