Hany Abu-Assad, director of 2005’s Paradise Now, tackles similar topics of Palestinian freedom fighting/terrorism in his latest film Omar. Set in Palestine, the film focuses on the day-to-day interactions between youth freedom fighters as they devise the plans that they hope will help set their country free. It also portrays the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers that lead such young people to execute the excessive forms of militancy they believe are crucial for their country’s independence.
The film’s titular character, played wonderfully by Adam Bakri is a young man coming of age in extreme circumstances. He has a day job as a baker, and wants to settle down with the love of his life Nadia (Leem Lubany). But he is also a “freedom fighter” or possibly a “terrorist” depending on how you choose to view his situation, and Nadia is the sister of Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) the leader of the fighting cell of which Omar is a member. Omar is arrested after an Israeli soldier is killed by Amjad (Samer Bisharat), a childhood friend and another member of the same cell. The Israeli authorities use Nadia’s safety against him, and Omar agrees to become an informant, which puts him at great risk as he tries to toe the line between alluding Israeli forces and staying loyal to friends he begins to feel he can also no longer trust.
What I love most about Omar is Abu-Assad’s delicacy in handling a very political subject. He doesn’t shy away from the extreme difficulties of Palestinian apartheid but the film maintains a balance because this story is about a very complex character that could be anyone of us. There’s a frustration in Omar that is readily assessable to anyone that possesses nationalistic loyalty but also feels cheated out of being able to enjoy a life of happiness without fear that is just out of reach. Omar is promised this life by both sides and begins to understand that not only is neither side capable of giving it to him, but he is also unable to make it for himself despite his best efforts. It’s a sobering look at a man’s life dictated, at least at first, by circumstances beyond his control.
The use of location only adds to the mode of storytelling as the camera chases Omar around the narrow streets and tucked away corners of Nazareth and the Far’a refugee camp among other locales. The streets and modes of escape become just as twisted as the politics at work in this story and Abu-Assad makes good use of them.
Omar is a deeply moving film about a weary battle that regrettably has no end in sight. Even the title of the film is apropos as “Omar” represents just one of many often faceless young people who endure similar struggles everyday in the region. As a filmmaker, Abu-Assad has a very commanding voice in the telling of stories that may be difficult to hear, but must be told.
Omar opens today at the Ritz Bourse and the Ritz Center 16 Voorhees.