By Reem Saleh
Director Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Paradise Now’ (2005) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won a Golden Globe in the same category. Now, his long-awaited ‘Omar’ competes at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section, where it has won the Jury Prize.
Set in Palestine, the film tells the story of childhood friends Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), Omar (Adam Bakri) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), as they face life-threatening events while facing the Israeli occupation and dealing with their own morphing friendship.
The film starts as Omar, a young baker, crosses the wall to meet up with his friends, not caring about the Israeli reprimand he is sure to experience if he is caught. His noticeably red nose comes to make sense when he is harshly beaten by soldiers. It’s not the first time – and not likely to be the last.
Their frustration with the Israeli occupation makes the blood of these young men boil – especially when something as easy as falling in love is met with seemingly endless obstacles. Omar exchanges love letters with Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lybany), who is also being chased by Samer. This love triangle escalates, becoming increasingly complicated and sending the friendship among the three down a shaky path.
This innocent romance is engulfed in fear and danger now that the friends have become freedom fighters facing a fierce and powerfuyl enemy. Patriotism, love and friendship don’t always gel when threatened by life sentences and physical torture – not to mention jealousy.
The film develops through unexpected and challenging events, but retains a human dimension, tackling the hopes of a young generation dreaming of a normal life in the midst of an oppressive reality. Abu-Assad elaborates on the difficulties of day-to-day survival that is economically harsh and at the same time requires facing the forces of occupation – as if one of these challenges were not enough. These young men have greater responsibilities; those of family and countriy. Their passionate drive does not always lead to a predictable outcome.
‘Omar’ is a powerful picture, supported by strong performances – especially from Adam Bakri, a rising talent I hope to see more of on the big screen.
The film raises important questions about the limits of endurance and the price of risking everything for a dream. These complicated dilemmas diplay for us how it is to live under occupation, how life drags one step at a time, pressuring people to make choices they don’t always care to make.