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Omar Is a Thriller Less Interested in Thrilling Than in Preaching

<i>Omar</i> Is a Thriller Less Interested in Thrilling Than in Preaching

A screed is a screed no matter its superficial genre trappings, as evidenced by Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, whose thriller machinations are merely a vehicle to deliver narrow-minded political preaching. Boasting none of the nuance that defined his last look at Israeli-Palestinian tensions, 2005’s Paradise Now, director Abu-Assad’s latest charts the fractured odyssey of twentysomething Palestinian Omar (Adam Bakri). When not baking bread, Omar spends his days scaling the security wall – a symbolic reflection of how Israeli policy has divided his life – in order to see girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany), and occupies himself at night conspiring with best friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) to kill an Israeli soldier.

While Omar and his Palestinian loved ones are presented as uniformly funny, romantic and likable, Israelis are depicted as unjustifiably cruel and devious, be they the soldiers who harass Omar for no reason, the officers who torture him after he’s rightly arrested for the soldier’s death, or agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter, a bearded dead-ringer for Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin), who tricks Omar into confessing and then blackmails him into becoming an informant. Throughout, Abu-Assad paints in such stark black-and-white terms that there’s no complexity to the ensuing saga, in which Omar is tasked with ratting out his friends if he ever wants to be with Nadia, only to discover that she may not be untrustworthy. With its deck so stacked that it plays out like a crude anti-Israeli sermon, the film – which ultimately determines that deception, betrayal and cold-blooded murder are acceptable if committed against Israelis (or by women), but not if done by Israelis – proves one-dimensional as both a political argument and a drama.

Omar screens at the New York Film Festival October 11 and 12

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2 comments
ufochka
ufochka

I think that this reviewer is showing his bias. As Wasterroadtree points out, palestinians in the west bank only meet Israelis in the context of the soldiers and occupiers.  And the handeler in Omar is played with  nuance by actor Waleed F. Zuaiter.  Plenty of films privilege the remorse and emotional problems of the occupiers , see The Gatekeepers , Bethlehem,and Waltz with  Bashir. Omar depicts a gritty morally complicated universe and neither sanctifies or condemns its characters. Its a taut and engaging thriller which exists in a specific social and political context and depicts the morally corrosive effects of occupation and the informer/ surveillance culture on all parties.

waterroadtree
waterroadtree

"...be they the soldiers who harass Omar for no reason, the officers who torture him after he’s rightly arrested for the soldier’s death, or agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter, a bearded dead-ringer for Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin), who tricks Omar into confessing and then blackmails him into becoming an informant." 


All of these are things that happen in Palestinian life, no exaggeration at all. In fact, there is a lot that ISN'T shown. I'm a Palestinian-American who only visits the West Bank during the summers and even I have experienced the "harassment for no reason".. that is how common it is in Palestinian life. And the other two things (torture and manipulation)... also definitely not fiction. 


Just as no one would expect a movie about Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany to be "neutral" (Wait, is it anti-semetic to say that?!), I do not see why a movie portraying the lives of Palestinians living under illegal military occupation should have to be neutral. 


Also, it is important to note that Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank, do not meet "normal" Israelis. The only interactions they have with Israelis are at checkpoints and during night raids. How can we see each others' humanity if our only interaction is that of prisoner-prison guard. And also, let's not talk about this as if these are two equal sides- it is occupier and occupied, ethnic cleanser and ethnically cleansed, free and imprisoned... Yes, that does not mean that all Israelis are bad and deserve violence, but it does explain why this film could not have been neutral. 

 

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