Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani, Samer Bisharat, Waleed Zuaiter
Written by: Hany Abu-Assad
Running Time: 96 mins
Release date: 30th May 2014
Omar has taken a long time to reach the UK shores but its been well worth the wait. Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Hany Abu-Assad takes a conventional Romeo and Juliet-esque love story and weaves a gripping thriller that is as good as anything that has come out of Hollywood, while using the conflict between Palestine and Israel as a backdrop.
Omar is a baker by day who climbs the wall separating him from his beloved Nadja, the sister to Tarek, a freedom fighter who Omar has joined up with, along with another childhood friend and rival to Nadja’s affections, Amjad. One of their missions leads to the death of a soldier. Omar is caught by the police and taken into custody where he is tortured by Agent Rami and tricked into admitting the crime. Remi doesn’t want Omar but is out for Tarek and persuades Omar to become an informant. Will Omar do what he is asked? How will this affect his loving relationship with Nadja?
Abu-Assad, whose previous work includes the excellent Paradise Now, dealing with suicide bombers, handles the heady mix of love story and political thriller brilliantly. Without hampering the film with a pulse-racing induced score, he allows the action to move along swiftly with some impressive set pieces, none more so than the chase when Omar is fleeing from the police through the alleyways and rooftops of the city. They wouldn’t look amiss in the Bourne movies.
He also manages to make us squirm with a truly shocking torture scene in which the vicious Agent Remi has Omar hanging naked from his wrists and doing some unthinkable things with a book and a lighter. Although as brutal as they are, they don’t feel as if they have been put there as exploitation but as a motivation to the rest of the story.
At the heart of the film is a very tender and genuine love story that doesn’t feel false or sickening. The love between Omar and the young yet strong-willed Nadja is touchingly played out and you can see the agony that Omar feels, especially in the latter scenes in which events turn and he has to face an unspeakable truth that crushes him.
The performances are exceptional, with Adam Bakri, superb as Omar, a young man willing to do anything for the girl he loves and Leem Lubany as Nadja. You genuine feel for this couple and you want them to find happiness but Abu-Assad isn’t going to allow us for one minute to think this is a Hollywood love story. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be tough and it is going to be heartbreaking.
Nominated for Best Foreign picture at this year’s Oscars, it wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t a remake in the pipeline. You instantly know that this will be a disaster, as it won’t have the political background, even though Abu-Assad doesn’t force any views or opinions down our throat. Instead, this is a story of two people in love in an extraordinary time with a neatly drawn out thriller holding it together. Strong, powerful stuff, filled with unlikable characters and yet it hooks us and doesn’t let go.