"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Omar by Hany Abu-Assad

Hany Abu-Assad's newest film, Omar (2013), is a hard-hitting and powerful feature film.  His previous films, Paradise Now (feature film nominated for an Academy Award, 2005) and Ford Transit  (faux documentary, 2002), are also about the hardships of the Occupation.  All three of these films are Palestinian productions.  Even though Abu-Assad lives in Holland, the film Omar was almost completely funded by Palestinian businessmen and the major crew members were all Palestinian.  

Omar is a love story.  It is also the story of the struggles and insanity of life under the Israeli Occupation.  According to the filmmaker, Hany Abu-Assad, who spoke at the premiere screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque: 

My only focus was to make a movie about the love story, friendship and trust.  

He went on to explain that the political reality was meant to be context.  The film shows how the political/national reality strongly affects the lives of individuals and the film's premise is that the terror of the occupation has caused these individuals to live with so much distrust, betrayal and paranoia  -- but ultimately, the real betrayal is not a political one but rather is connected to the love story. 

Omar, Tarek and Amjad are close friends.  Omar is in love with Tarek's sister, Nadia, and he climbs the separation wall, taking great risks, in order to visit her.   As a result of the humiliation and degradation of regular life in the West Bank, the three friends decide to commit an act of violent resistance.  When the filmmaker was asked whether his film supports the resistance to the occupation, he stated unequivocally that it is the primary message and that "injustice requires resistance."

Omar is played by Adam Bakri, one of the sons of Mohammed Bakri, and it is clear to see that he is as good looking and as compelling an actor as his father.  He plays a baker -- someone whose life is devoted to making bread, nurturing and satisfying a basic human need.  He is a tragic figure -- a moral, sensitive and beautiful human being who makes self-destructive choices in his life.

These are the major threads of the film -- Omar's love story, the senseless act of violence committed by him together with his friends, and the resulting savage beating and harassment that he receives by the Israeli Security Services (Shin Bet).

Many people are comparing this film to the Israeli thriller, Bethlehem (previously reviewed on this blog), which is about the relationship between a Shin Bet handler and his Palestinian collaborator.  The major difference is that since Omar is a film made from a Palestinian perspective, the main character, who is also being recruited by the Shin Bet to become a collaborator, never betrays his own sense of morality, never betrays any of his friends, and never collaborates in any way.
 The film includes much tension and violence -- on the part of the Shin Bet, the Israeli  soldiers, and also among the Palestinians themselves -- and therefore some might find it troubling.  However, the film, which has already won accolades around the world and is on the list for an Academy Award nomination, offers an important reflection of the tragic choices that regular people are being forced to make as part of their lives in the West Bank. 

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