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"Omar" (2013 release from Palestine; 96 min.) brings the story of Omar and his friends Tarek and Amjad. As the movie opens, we see Omar climbing over the separation wall (dividing Israel from the West bank) to see the girl of his dreams, Nadja. Tarek pushes Omar and Amjad to be more active in their fight against the Israelis, and at one point they shoot and kill an Israeli border guard, but it isn't long before Omar is apprehended by the Israeli police. Given the choice of being jailed for many years, or instead to be set free and lure Tarek into the hands of the Israelis, Omar chooses the latter. In a separate story line, we learn that Amjad also has his eyes on Nadja. Is Omar really going to snitch on his friends? Who will win Nadja's heart? To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: first, when you get a Palestine movie in which there is conflict with the Israelis, you automatically expect that this will be a political movie. Yet it really isn't the case at all. Instead, this movie looks at the conflicts of being a reluctant informant, and the resulting mind games being played. Second, this is an equally compelling family drama, with two guys chasing the same girl, of course in the context of strict family traditions and even stricter religion. Third, the movie contains a number of great performances, including Adam Bakri in the title role and the beautiful Leem Lubany in the role of Nadja. Last but certainly not least, I never saw the end coming, and it frankly was a little bit of a shock.

"Omar" scored an Oscar nomination earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Movie. The category was pretty stacked this year, and it didn't win. That doesn't take anything away from this movie, though, which I found compelling from start to finish. I saw "Omar" in late February at the West End Cinema in Washington DC, and the early matinée showing where I saw it, was reasonably well attended. This movie certainly deserves to be seen (as are all the other Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Movie), be it in the theater or on DVD/Blu-ray. "Omar" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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on June 22, 2014
The darkness at the center of Omar sneaks up on the viewer: it is not apparent in the opening scenes, which establish a tone that is not dissimilar from a lot of uplifting issue films, portraying in color-soaked and agile shots the playful camaraderie that exists between its young West Bank protagonists, with a harsher edge suggested by the backdrop of the Israeli occupation and the dividing wall which separates the friends from each other.

The story is told entirely from the title character’s point of view. Omar (Adam Bakri) is an athletic, handsome, and charismatic young man, a baker by trade, and a resistance fighter. While his relationship with his family is minimally detailed, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) appear to be an extended family of sorts: Tarek is an older brother figure, a leader in the resistance, while Amjad looks and acts like the youngest of the three, a diminutive, lanky comedian; there is also Tarek’s younger sister, Nadia (Leem Lubany), whose affections are one of the principal reasons Omar risks the fire of Israeli military patrols to scale the wall. Omar wants to seek her hand in marriage; Tarek, as Nadia’s protector, intuits their relationship; and Amjad thinks he may have a chance as well. This dynamic is established in one brief scene with minimal dialogue.

The three young men are shown firing guns and practicing self-defense in a small forest, chatting and joking; the psychological burden of the occupation is elucidated in Omar’s dangerous encounters with the patrols. After escaping their (presumably warning) pot shots several times while scaling the wall, which seems to be merely part of his daily routine, Omar is stopped by a patrol group while walking home, humiliated, and then physically injured by one of the heavily armed and armored soldiers. He consults with Tarek and Amjad: he wants to execute the plan they have been working on ahead of schedule.

The execution of the plan involves killing an Israeli soldier stationed at a nearby facility. The three young men use nightfall as cover, hiding in the bushes with a high-powered rifle. Amjad’s responsibility is to shoot: Tarek planned the killing and Omar stole and drove the car; everyone must have a responsibility. Further, Tarek wants Amjad to commit himself more fully to the cause. Amjad shoots and kills the man, and they flee under a hail of automatic gunfire.

At this point, the audience is presented with the dilemma of how to view three otherwise likeable protagonists who have just murdered in cold blood. Director Hany Abu-Assad is no stranger to controversy of this nature, having directed Paradise Now (2005), which followed a similar group of men as they prepared for a suicide bombing in Israel. Abu-Assad aims to fully emotionally invest the audience in Omar’s lived experience without asking viewers to embrace his actions. After all, why shouldn’t an audience be capable of relating to someone who commits murder, or to any other human being for that matter? Good art often makes us sympathize with a person whose values we would utterly reject. That is one of the principal purposes of art, and if it is scary and discomfiting for the viewer, it is successful.

Omar is captured by Israeli intelligence officers shortly after the shooting, and a guileful agent named Rami (in an excellent turn by Palestinian American actor Walid Zuaiter) tries to turn him into a collaborator. Thus begins an ambiguous and sordid descent into the chess match between Israeli intelligence and Palestinian fighters: Omar is coerced, manipulated, threatened, mistrusted, and fed lies by multiple parties. Eager to prove his faithfulness to the cause, he tries to play a dangerous double game. As a viewer it is painful to watch as a young man with immense potential throws it away in an act of violent retribution; as he grapples to find a thread of hope even as the viewer sees all possible exits being sealed around him, trapping him in the crumbling façade of a life.

There is a distinct existential and moral landscape, evocative of Kafka and of Orwell, which I think Abu-Assad evokes well – and it is not an easy task to capture the oneiric shadow of Kafka’s omnipresent state, or the violent cognitive dissonance and profound loss of selfhood to which Winston Smith succumbs in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Israel’s occupying presence is portrayed in Abu-Assad’s film as a vast, tentacular structure which pervades every interaction, an overwhelming presence to which all must submit. Rami is chimeric: Omar knows nothing about him except what Rami wants to show him – I even questioned whether phone conversations he has with his mother and wife in front of Omar are real – but the agent seems two steps ahead of his ward at all times. The Palestinian protagonists of the film are played against each other cynically; they forsake their communal ethics in order to survive, stew in bitterness and resentment, and question their own ability to distinguish the truth.

2009′s widely acclaimed Ajami was praised for portraying the flawed but intact humanity on all sides of the conflict, but I found it contrived, predictable, and ultimately misguided. It is self-evident that there is humanity and common ground to be found, but what is more challenging to get across in a profound and relatable way is the fear and hatred that so often stifles all parties’ better sentiments in long-standing conflicts. I cannot judge whether Abu-Assad’s depiction will ring true with all Palestinians, or comment on whether his depiction of Israeli forces is just. It will inevitably raise questions about propaganda and political art, as a one-P.O.V. depiction of a multi-sided conflict, as a film which has been embraced by many of those who are most directly affected by the political realities it evinces, and received praise from broader audiences. It could be viewed as an apologia for counterproductive violence; but Abu-Assad’s depiction of humanity as a whole is unflattering, not merely the Israeli forces. The film looks realist but is fabular at its heart. It reveals character in a way that sometimes subtly skirts the line of misanthropy and raises questions about the darker aspects of human nature. Importantly, it does not offer facile hope, and contains subtle critiques of those who have turned the conflict into kitsch campaigns. It is a significant contribution to the annals of art relating the shifting dynamics of the Israel-Palestine relationship, and an exemplum of how human values can be degraded and identities lost when freedom of movement and thought is denied.
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on May 5, 2014
I worked for the isreali gov several times ,so I began to understand the desporate problems that exist there..there has been conflict and killings for over 50 years ,fifty,,that means people have lived /and died,and never in thier lives ,knew anything but war...this sensitive well done film shows the Arab side,..,golda maier said it best..,"there will never never be peace here until those that want to make war,will want to make peace."..we cannot know how lucky we are to be Americans....a good movie. Watch it and understand a little more,,
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on August 24, 2014
****1/2

"Omar" is so topical in content and authentic in form that it feels as though it had been ripped straight from the morning's headlines. This Oscar-nominated Palestinian film may not be as "fair and balanced" in its depiction of the seemingly endless and intractable Mid East conflict as some might wish it to be, but, like all good social dramas, the movie is far more concerned with exploring the human condition than with scoring political points.

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian baker who, at great risk to himself, regularly scales the massive wall that runs through occupied Palestine to hang out with his friends, Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), and to carry on a secret romance with his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany), who also happens to be Tarek's sister. The three young men are also active as "freedom fighters," dedicated to liberating their people from Israeli control. After Amjad shoots and kills an Israeli soldier, Omar is arrested and coerced into becoming a spy in exchange for his freedom. Against this backdrop of simmering social and ethnic unrest, the bonds of friendship are tested in ways that will surprise and move you.

Though the geographic, sectarian and boundary issues could be a bit more clearly defined for audiences less familiar with the area, the screenplay by Hany Abu-Assad finds its truth in its portrayal of what day-to-day life is like for the ordinary people who call that part of the world home. Omar and his buddies may be passionately partisan about their cause, but that doesn't mean they aren't complex, three-dimensional characters in their own right. For underneath all the outward bravado and righteous bluster, they are still just "boys" after all, with all the interests and concerns that all young men have who are embarking on this journey we call life - a journey made all the more arduous and challenging by the world in which they live.

Assad's direction is taut when it needs to be (particularly in the striking foot chases through the narrow streets and alleyways of the prison-like city) and observant and patient when that is what is called for.

All the actors are excellent, but special mention must be made of young Bakri, who, as the title character, runs the emotional gamut from explosive to sheepish without missing a beat, his sly, toothy grin standing in direct counterpoint to his steely gaze and serious mien. It is Bakri who largely cuts through the polemics and who makes the story one that all of us can relate to. Well worth seeing.
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on January 10, 2016
I watched this movie with friends who unlike me had never traveled to or worked in this part of the world a,d who get their info from just the evening news biased sound-bites... Watching their reactions and questions was almost as interesting as the movie itself... They came away with new knowledge and understanding of the separation wall, shin-bet torture and methods, the desperation that the. Israeli occupation causes countless lives over there (both Arabs and Jews) - our tax dollars at work!
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on May 4, 2015
Though it has it's occasional minor flaws (some arguable overstatement of themes) this is generally a terrific political thriller.

A young Palestinian radical is put through the emotional, moral and physical wringer after being blackmailed into becoming an informer (or at least professing to) for the Israelis, following an arrest that could put him in jail for life. While Abu-Assad's sympathies clearly lie with the Palestinians, his characters and situations are much more complex and human than good guys and bad guys. He sees the damage that being in a constant state of war and occupation does to both sides.

Beyond that, this is not a 'political' film first. It's complex web of betrayal, love, fear, bravery, and paranoia could be anywhere two sides are facing off in a morally and politically complex situation, especially where one side is a guerrilla uprising, the other an established government. It could be Ireland and the IRA, or South Africa in the more militant days of the ANC. The beauty and terror of Abu-Assad's film is that it's about people not ideology. And the reality that people on both sides are capable of great good and great evil, often for reasons personal as much as political. I happened to see this within days of the also critically acclaimed "Bethlehem" which tells a remarkably similar tale, but from an Israeli point of view. Seeing both heightened the power of each -- for where they overlapped and where they differed. I'd recommend seeing both to anyone interested in good, human thrillers and who is interested in examining the middle east conflict in more than simple 'right and wrong' terms.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 11, 2014
Omar is a Palestinian who climbs the horrible concrete walls that separate his land from Israel to see his friend Tarek and his sister - Nadia - whom he is head over heels in love with, They have a third friend who also has the hots for the school girl Nadia. The three of them also class themselves as `freedom fighters' against the Israeli occupation, and take up arms to prove their mettle.

In the wake of their attack Omar is captured and turned informant. What follows is a twisted tale of cat and mouse as he thinks he can play one side off against the other and still get the girl. This though is far from Hollywood and the story is never going to be a fairy tale. To say any more would be trespassing into the realm of plot spoiling.

This is a very good film, but the plot can feel a bit contrived on reflection. It will also be criticised for being anti Israeli, but that was surely inevitable. It has its moments and also a quality of foreboding that keeps you hooked. The acting is all well above average and the cinematography is spot on too. It runs for 98 minutes and is in Hebrew and Arabic with fairly good sub titles. There are scenes that some may find unpleasant but it is all done with more than a modicum of restraint; all in all a film well worth watching, but not one you would not want to see twice as once you know the `reveals' it will lose impact second time round - recommended.
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on December 19, 2015
The movie is fine. It's just that it's not what I was hungry for. I hoped for a story that would give me insight or perspective on the lives of people in this situation, but this was more about plot and narrative. Well done story. Just not what I was looking for.
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on June 12, 2016
This a sparse well acted good story. There are some twists, mystery and moral issues that make it more interesting. Some fast paced action keeps the story moving. There is some ambiguity in the plot that could have been explained better and the ending was a little too abrupt but over all very good.
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on March 29, 2015
I watched "Omar" because I loved this director's film, "Paradise Now." "Omar" is riveting, fresh, heart-wrenching, and has unexpected twists that drive this film. It's a love story within the context of an impossible life, and if you do rent or buy this, don't hit "play" til you're ready--it's all-engrossing!
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