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By Joe Langham
Omar is directed by HanyAbu-Assad, whose previous directorial credits include films such as Paradise Now and The Courier. It is a brutal story of love and betrayal doubling as a steadily paced thriller, set in Palestine. We see the film open with Omar scaling a giant wall which the purpose of, we discover, is to visit the object of his affection. At first this seems merely metaphorical; a titanic obstacle to overcome in order to win her heart, but its political relevance becomes more prevalent as the film progresses. The wall, which oppresses and imprisons the Palestinians within its boundaries, is seen vividly looming over the characters in many shots, a big reminder to the audience of the cause of many of Omar’s and his friends’ problems and thus the course of action that they take. A series of events lead to his life coming crashing down around him and makes the wall between him and Nadia seem the least of his problems.
Omar is a mere bread maker by day but a freedom fighter at night, who is portrayed by Adam Bakri. He wishes for Palestinian freedom from Israeli oppression along with his friends and fellow freedom fighters. Amjad is Omar’s friend and is played by Samer Bisharat. The trio of main characters is completed by Tarek played by Iyad Hoorani.
Bakri brilliantly plays the interesting and conflicted Omar. The believability of his performance makes it seem like he is acting out personal experiences rather than imagined ones from the script. This may be true however as many of the cast and also the director come from backgrounds that are not too dissimilar to those portrayed in the film. Bakri convincingly and consistently offers an array of emotions throughout the film from joy to anger to poignancy. It is hard to not become involved both intellectually and emotionally when such a powerful story is played out so well. His ability to cover such a spectrum in his performance shows just what a talented and promising actor he is and I look forward to seeing future work from him.
Amjad is a good friend of Omar and a rather quirky character overall. Whilst being a bit slow, I believe he is also described as such in the film, this does not detract from his performance. Often characters that are intended to be humorous have their performances lost in the comedy therefore making it hard to appreciate the more serious side to them; however Samer Bisharat finds a great balance between the two. His Marlon Brando expressions and strange stories offer some humorous relief to a serious and gripping story.
Finally, Leem Lubany plays Nadia who is Omar’s love interest. Nadia is another great character although she is one of the weaker ones overall. When compared to Bakri however, this is no insult. At times she seems rather naive for such a smart girl and it is hard to know whether to feel sorry for her or annoyed at her. Omar and Nadia have a heart-warming, almost childlike romance that is hard not to smile it. At times it seems as if they actually are infatuated with each other which speaks volumes of their performance. Omar’s dedication to Nadia is shown through the fact he regularly risks his life to visit her, and shows that the things you care most about in life are worth fighting for.
Despite the cast having no major acting experience, they offer performances that would be worthily attributed to any award-winning and established actor or actress. This is shown by the fact that the film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category and scooped several other wins including the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. The brilliant Adam Bakri was also nominated for a best actor award. Abu-Assad states his reason for picking people with little to no film experience was to try and get an air of realism and he well and truly succeeded.
Omar is a deep and thought provoking film that is to be admired. Acting and storyline take precedence over spectacle and result in an intriguing and hard hitting film.
Omar is out now in selected cinemas, distributed by Soda Pictures in the UK.