And this wraps up the Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee crop from this past Academy Awards ceremony. You’ll find all five films reviewed here on the blog, of course. I believe the riveting “The Missing Picture”, from Cambodia, should have been the winner, but the victorious “The Great Beauty”, out of Italy, was quite fine as well. Bringing up the rear was the interesting, yet convoluted, Denmark entry “The Hunt”, but I was quite touched and devastated by Belgium nominee “The Broken Circle Breakdown”. So, what of this last former contender, “Omar” from Palestine? I had an idea of what to expect, being that Palestinian director/writer Hany Abu-Assad had been up for the Oscar before, with his very good “Paradise Now” in 2005. “Omar” is similar with its story of occupation and desperation. And until it becomes too formulaic towards the finale, it’s as fine as its predecessor. Sporting an array of first-time feature film actors, the device brings an immediacy and naturalistic quality to the proceedings. Only Waleed Zuaiter as Israeli Agent Rami has a lengthy resume, and his weighty work acts as a ground for some of his younger live-wire cohorts.
Omar(an excellent Adam Bakri)is a young Palestinian freedom fighter that regularly scales an occupation wall along the Gaza strip, to visit with friends and a love interest on the other side. Omar risks being shot, or humiliated and beaten by Israeli soldiers if caught going over(demonstrated in a harrowing scene in the first third of the film). Omar pines for the beautiful Nadia(an intriguing Leem Lubany), the sister of the volatile Tarek(a commanding Iyad Hoorani)—who is intricately involved in the occupation resistance. Omar and Nadia wish to marry, although the diminutive Amjad(a well-cast Samer Bisharat)desires her hand too. When the three men team up for an anti-occupation operation, masked and under cover of darkness, an Israeli soldier is shot and killed. Who pulled the trigger? Will Omar rat out his friends to avoid lifetime incarceration? Can he manage to run away with Nadia and start a new life? It’s up to Israeli agent and handler Rami(Mr. Zuaiter)to convince Omar that betrayal is the only way out. And Omar has a very limited time frame to make up his mind.
“Omar” plays like half political thriller and half love story, and its the former part that ultimately betrays it. The Palestinian conflict becomes muted at a certain point, and the proceedings become more generic and less distinctive. It’s still a cracker jack yarn throughout its 97-minute running time however, as it’s briskly paced and solidly performed by the mostly amateur cast. Special kudos go to the fantastic Adam Bakri as the title character, who deftly juggles the processes of loyalty, defiance and self-preservation while attempting to maintain his relationship with Nadia. It’s a tension-filled movie, with some disturbing scenes of torture, and all the built-in controversy of showing Palestinians in a sympathetic light…just like “Paradise Now” before it. But until it gets bogged down in some Hitchcockian histrionics, it maintains a powerful plot trajectory and a boasts a game and enthusiastic cast. It’s a very good film, and Bakri is one to watch in the future. Grade: B+