Omar, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at Street Level


The latest chin-out probe into the mutual-lockjaw Israeli-Palestinian scenario from Paradise Now‘s director Hany Abu-Assad, this zippy melodrama immediately homes in on an athletic Arab twentysomething (Adam Bakri) scaling the West Bank wall and shrugging off gunfire in order to visit his swooningly adorable girlfriend (Leem Lubany) and meet with her older brother, with whom he rather blithely trains to assassinate Israeli border guards.

Neither Omar himself nor Abu-Assad sees a conflict here, but we might, particularly once the would-be freedom fighters arbitrarily shoot a soldier; Omar is arrested, tortured, and released as a secret informer, and the two lovebirds continue to talk about getting married.

Collaboration becomes the primary dilemma — until a more personal crisis overrides all. Abu-Assad is scrupulous about not judging his characters, leaving Omar bouncing around an ethics-free zone that sometimes suggests a low-budget action film, with plenty of parkour-esque chase scenes through the Nablus alleyways.

The POV is unalloyed Palestinian, but the movie is so brisk, even-handed, and realpolitik you’re never quite sure if it has anything to say. Reportedly, Abu-Assad wrote his script in four days, and you can tell — its programmatic twists and equations scan like default decisions, even as the characters pulse with infectious humor and their tragic spiral feels inevitable.

An Oscar nominee and award-winner at Cannes, Omar often seems like the conflict’s close-to-the-ground, Don Siegel-style B-movie, which can be a fresh slap across the face compared to the usual can’t-we-get-along homilies.

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