In spite of its intriguing political backdrop, Omar is a disappointing film which relies too heavily on tired old clichés.
Separation of Powers by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Omar is only the third Palestinian film to be nominated for an Academy Award, director Hany Abu-Assad’s love story come thriller is evidence of a slowly maturing film industry emerging from the cloak of military occupation. Opening with the titular character scaling the Qalandia wall that separates the West Bank and Palestinian neighbourhoods in Israel, there is a real sense that Omar is a unique and insightful story in a unique and unfamiliar setting. It’s disappointing then that this early promise quickly dissipates when we are introduced to familiar clichéd characters and well-worn conventional dilemmas.
In an act of defiance to their occupation, a trio of young Palestinians decide to kill an Israeli soldier. One of them, a baker named Omar (Adam Bakri), is arrested and beaten by Israeli intelligence agents. Told that he will be given his freedom if he assists in capturing the man they believe to be the shooter, Omar rejoins his friends and begins to suspect that there is an informant among them.
Following the success of his Oscar-nominated, Paradise Now (about suicide bombings in Tel Aviv), director Hany Abu-Assad deliberately set out to place politics firmly in the background of his latest film, Omar. Citing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the “prism” in which Paradise Now had been viewed through, he wanted to make a film where politics were subsidiary, saying that “everyone has their own political view, but we should judge movies as movies, through the language of cinema”. The biggest issue in doing so however, is that outside of the fascinating political backdrop, all we are left with is a pretty run-of-the-mill thriller. There is that beautiful opening scene, sure, there are some enthralling chase scenes and there is at least one brilliant performance from Leem Lubany as Nadia, but all in all, there’s nothing new here.
There’s obviously no problem with tried and trusted film structures as long as there is some ingenuity elsewhere, or even where the performances elevate proceedings in some way, but unfortunately, there is no such saving grace here. Clumsy performances and archetypal characters derail Omar as an experience in the opening third, and somewhat frustratingly, it’s only in the final 20 minutes that Omar gains some composure and finds its feet. Not only is it more entertaining, but it’s almost as if the performances – Bakri’s in particular – are more rounded, not as clunky they have been for the rest of the running time. Whether this is as a result of a film shot in continuity – where the actors had 10-12 days in character to arrive at this point – or whether the script is simply better, is impossible to tell.
The political significance of Omar‘s delineation as a film of Palestine origin at this year’s Oscars attests to the progress made by the Palestinian film industry. Filmed in the city of Nablus, by a Palestinian citizen of Israel and acted by Palestinian actors, it’s a hugely significant achievement for the film to have been recognised at the highest levels of Hollywood. However, the cliché-riddled plot, patchy performances and general lack of a truly cohesive narrative result in a disappointingly un-fulfilling experience.
Omar is released on 30th May 2014 in the UK