Palestine's Oscar Nominee, 'Omar', Is Remarkable

The kids' romantic naïvete is compounded by their forever-war surroundings. This is made vivid at film's start, when Omar first appears scaling the graffitied wall between his neighborhood and the Israeli territor


Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Eyad Hourani, Samer Bisharat
Rated: NR
Studio: Adopt Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-02-21 (Limited release)

"Is there someone else?" Omar (Adam Bakri) worries that his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubany) has been distracted. She smiles exquisitely, then doesn't quite assure him. "Who else? Who would there be?" she teases, "Oh! You mean Brad Pitt!"

Nadja's joke is at once cute and telling in Omar, Palestine's nominee for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, as was director Hany Abu-Assad's 2005 film, Paradise Now. The two films share a subject matter that is as urgent now as it was then, that is, young Palestinians' struggle under Israeli occupation. Where the earlier film focused on the complicated anxieties driving a pair of suicide bombers, this one reveals that as the trauma of the occupation has become pervasive and mundane, the topic of schoolyard conversations, it shapes the ways kids see themselves and their limited possibilities.

Still, Nadia and Omar give themselves over to romance, as intricate and delicate as any Brad Pitt might embody. And they are keeping their romance secret, in particular from her older brother Tarek (Eyad Hourani). This makes for a difficult balance, as Tarek heads up a small resistance unit whose members include Omar and another childhood friend, Amjad (Samer Bisharat); the unit is also secret, of course, though not from Nadia and other immediate community members, who see the group's work as righteous and do what they can to support it.

That Nadia first appears in the film as she serves tea to the group when they meet in her family's home reveals subtle tensions: she and Omar exchange glances and careful smiles, their focus plainly on one another even as the group is planning to kill an Israeli soldier. Omar's vision of a future with Nadia, "settled down," has precious little to do with what he's doing with the resistance, but like any teen who watches Hollywood movies, he's not inclined to ponder dire consequences.

Their naïvete is compounded by their forever-war surroundings. This is made vivid at film's start, when Omar first appears scaling the graffitied wall between his neighborhood and the Israeli territory where Tarek and Nadia live, the rope he uses causing bloody damage when, on hearing a siren and gunshots, he's got to dash for cover, running through narrow alleys and up and down stone stairways as he expertly makes his escape. The camera runs along behind him here, positioning you both as pursuer and fellow escapee, a participant in chaos, unable to do much else but continue racing headlong.

An introduction to Omar's diurnal turmoil, the zig-zaggedy careening that is his life, the scene is stunning in several senses: when he turns to face the camera and you see him in close-up, breathing hard and calmly noting his injuries, you see how impossible and inevitable this life must be. Omar's participation in the soldier's shooting is of a piece with such experience.

Even as he promises Nadia he'll ask Tarek's permission for their marriage "soon", and that he'll be taking her on a honeymoon to Mozambique, neither he nor Nadia imagines the murder will change their course. Such horrors take place daily, the rituals and realities of growing up here and now.

When things do go wrong, and Omar is captured by the Israelis, he faces another set of non-options. In prison he's coerced by Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), an Israeli agent who threatens Nadia if Omar refuses to collaborate. At first, Omar believes he can keep faith with his compatriots and keep Rami at bay. But as his plans fall apart at each of several steps, as his faith becomes a point of debate among those he loves and to whom he remains devoted, Omar confronts a whole other set of non-options.

These unfold as a series of unexpected turns, in Omar's plot and also in its phenomenal visual architecture. The camera does its best to keep up with Omar as he negotiates and renegotiates: the backdrop to a pay phone call offers the grim specter of a billboard that suggests the settlements are "Planting Hope", while his uneasy surveillance of Nadia with friends in their school uniforms suggests she's not precisely as faithful as he might hope. Her revelation that her classmates are suggesting he's a collaborator is the worst possible story that might circulate, and yet he's unable to expose himself fully, unable to trust Nadia or Tarek, much less Rami.

On his own, Omar is perpetually caught between walls and fences, again and again framed by windows and doorways. While he continues to dream he might "settle down" with Nadia -- the choice of words seems especially disconcerting, in the English translation, anyway -- all that occurs around Omar argues against it. There is no resolution in sight, no good outcome, only more chaos, more distrust, and more struggle.

Still, you can see how he might desire otherwise, how he might imagine a movie-like ending where he's able to transform his world, like Brad Pitt might do. That Omar maintains so many possibilities for so long, reflecting Omar's hopes if not his complete understanding, is its own remarkable difficult balance.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.