Wednesday, February 26, 2014
One of the five nominees for this year's foreign language Oscar, the Palestinian "Omar" stars Adam Bakri as the title character, a baker we first see scaling a tall separation wall to see his secret girlfriend, Nadja (Leem Lubany), sister of Tarek (Eyad Hourani), his best friend since childhood.
Omar, Tarek and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) chafe under what they view (and director Hany Abu-Assad overplays) as the arbitrarily cruel boot of their occupiers. After much preparation, they shoot an Israeli soldier in a nighttime ambush, then flee in one of the film's several excitingly choreographed foot chases. Omar is captured days later (after another thrilling chase), and faces a lifetime of imprisonment and torture (and reprisals for Nadja as well) unless he cooperates with Rami, the Arabic-speaking Israeli handler (Waleed F. Zuaiter) who offers him full immunity in exchange for Tarek's arrest. (It was actually Amjad who pulled the trigger, but Tarek's the ringleader.)
Many moments in "Omar" ring true: the way a child runs into the bakery to warn Omar the police are coming; the silent glance by which a stranger into whose home Omar has run signals the safest escape route; the makeshift contraption he sets up to warn him when a doorstop is tripped; the devious way he's hornswoggled into a quasi-confession. Bakri and Lubany make an appealing couple, all shy smiles and mash notes passed with teacups. And while Abu-Assad's script is schematic and underdeveloped, his basic set-up keeps us interested much of the time. Unfortunately, he allows it to go slack with redundancies and clichés. ("I can't do anything for you," Rami tells Omar each time, before sending him back out with one last chance.) The last scene is so poorly staged that we know ahead of time exactly what's going to happen. And the final act itself - the money shot - sacrifices all of the complexity and nuance of what's come before for a heinous bit of pro-Palestinian propaganda.