by M. Faust
If I were to call this new drama, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, a classic example of film noir, you would probably get the wrong idea. It doesn’t feature any of the expected visual tropes of that genre, like black-and-white cinematography or looming shadows or claustrophobic sets (though there are a few foot chases that make excellent use of tight spaces).
But Omar is the story of a man who steps into a noose and spends the rest of the film feeling it tightening around his neck, never more so than when he thinks he’s on the verge of casting it off.
Omar (Adam Bakri, like most of the film’s cast a first-time actor) is a young Palestinian baker. He lives in occupied territory, and is adept at scaling the Israeli wall that cuts through his town when he wants to visit friends. He most often visits his childhood friends Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Eyad Hourani), and is in love with Tarek’s younger sister Nadja (Leem Lubany).
But being accustomed to the occupation doesn’t mean they want to tolerate it, and one night Omar and his friends shoot an Israeli security guard. He wasn’t the shooter, but he is the one who is caught. When torture won’t make him give up a name, his military handler Rami (the excellent Waleed F. Zuaiter, the film’s only professional actor) forces him to become a collaborator.
I won’t reveal the details of that arrangement because it shifts through the course of the film. Omar thinks he can outsmart his captors, but he’s wrong. He’s equally wrong when he thinks he can trust his friends.
Hany Abu-Assad, who also directed the Oscar nominee Paradise Now, clearly sides with these young men, but this isn’t a political film: It could as easily have been set in any place where people live under excessive repression, of which there is currently no lack. What seems to be a simple story grows in complexity as it proceeds; Rami’s full nature, for one example, keeps darkening well after the movie has ended and you piece his character together. I didn’t see all of the Oscar nominees in this category, but if there were all this good I hope to have a chance to cath up with them.
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