Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany embrace in the Palestine-set "Omar." Credit: Adopt Films
'Omar' Director: Hany-Abu Assad Stars: Adam Bakri, Eyad Hourani Rating: NR 3 (out of 5) Globes
In 2005, Palestinian filmmaker Hany-Abu Assad directed “Paradise Now,” a look at suicide bombers that was accused by some of supporting terrorism. It didn’t, and his latest goes to great pains to stress that its maker is as interested in the mental state of living with war as he is in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The titular protagonist (Adam Bakri) of the Oscar-nominated "Omar" is a freedom fighter who, with his friends, has been planning a sniper attack on an Israeli base. He’s also in love, like anyone else. Nadja (Leem Lubany), his friend’s sister, is as important as — perhaps even moreso than — his political leanings. Balancing them gets him into trouble.
After a shooting with which he wasn’t involved, Omar is rounded up by Israeli forces, who proceed to torture him. Wanting to get back to Nadja, he agrees to a horrible pact: He will turn snitch, informing on her brother, Tarek (Eyad Hourani). Like last year’s IRA portrait, “Shadow Dancer,” it’s about delving into the waking nightmare of life as a stool pigeon, forced to interact with those who trust you even as you’re working for those you hate. There’s no easy way out, as Omar quickly learns, and the headache in which he finds himself serves to say plenty about a situation most tend to see in stark black-and-white.
Though it’s angry, “Omar” isn’t heavy. It even has a sense of humor. Assad allows for human foibles and clumsiness. The scenes between Omar and Nadja exude the carefree flirtation of genuine, blossoming love — segments that stand in stark contrast to the seriousness of what’s going on after dark. Omar and friends’ plan to strike a base is played as though they were kids in over their heads, unable to understand the full ramifications of what they do. And as Omar discovers he’s not the only turncoat, the picture takes on the faint whiff of dark comedy.
This is all relative, of course: Assad simply knows how to temper the seriousness of his intent so that it doesn’t overwhelm what he wants to say. It’s a film that’s asking questions, not answering them, and one that wants to get inside certain head spaces. Everyone involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is tainted; everyone is human. Omar is even able to break through to the agent who tortures him in a harshly lit room. Assad is getting better as a director, too. He handles scenes with a relatively light touch, and a foot chase has a certain action movie craft to it. There are many films on this specific subject, but “Omar” is unique enough to deserve being named after a person, not an idea.