Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated Omar (2013) is a gripping political drama about a young Palestinian baker and freedom fighter (Adam Bakri), who’s forced to become an informant. Set in occupied Palestinian territories, we first see Omar successfully scaling the impossibly high separation wall, a forbidding construct covered in graffiti, only to be shot at as he nears the top. Omar has to cross the barrier in order to visit his childhood pals Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). He’s in love with Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lubany) and each time they meet for coffee, the pair covertly exchange love letters. At night, the friends train as freedom fighters and plan to kill an Israeli solder.
After the trio commit their first act of violence they are betrayed and realise that they are forever marked men. The following day, Omar is chased through the streets, caught, imprisoned and tortured. He is tricked by Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter), into incriminating himself with the words “I will never confess.” In order to secure his release he has to agree to work as an informant and hand over Tarek to the Israeli forces, even though it is Amjad who killed the soldier. Free again, Omar pursues his relationship with Nadia and asks for Tarek’s permission to marry his sister. He is surprised to learn that Amjad has also asked for Nadia’s hand. Mistrust blossoms as the trio release that they have been betrayed by someone within their circle. Abu-Assad prolongs this tension throughout the film.
We’re left guessing as to who has betrayed whom and if Omar is really working for the Israelis or remains loyal to his friends and their cause. There are some wonderful chase scenes through the narrow passages of the West Bank and across roofs. The stark landscape and brutal concrete structures that separate the friends from each other and imprison Omar is brilliantly captured by cinematographer Ehab Assal, reflecting the political and sociological barriers to peace in the region. Omar’s love for Nadia adds an extra layer to the plot and serves as a reminder of his sensitivity and humanity. Even after being scarred by violence, Omar attempts to behave honourably. But after his second detention and early release, Nadia begins to doubt him and Omar finds his choices increasingly restricted. It is as though Agent Rami has put a noose around his neck and is gradually pulling it tighter. This is political cinema at its best; intelligent, thought-provoking and utterly absorbing. Bakri is a star in the making and delivers an electrifying performance.
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