Friday, March 7, 2014

Omar












OMAR            B                                 
Palestine  (96 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Hany Abu-Assad

Much of the fatalistic implications from this movie has the riveting feel of real life drama, as it depicts the improbable and near impossible mountain for Palestinians to climb to obtain respect and nationhood around the world, as this harrowing story of how deeply implanted the Israeli’s have infiltrated into every fabric of Palestinian life is a bit overwhelming at times.  Part of the film’s power is how accurately it reflects life under occupation, and the futility of negotiating any peace agreement with the Israeli’s, as there’s little likelihood of any progress, as Israel has the Palestinians exactly where they want them, fractured, divided, powerless, and permanently economically disadvantaged, where they literally have to flee the country to find jobs and a new life elsewhere.  If they stay, this film reflects, with stunning accuracy, the grim future that awaits them.  Told with a searing intensity that recalls the near documentary portrait of Jacques Audiard’s brutal prison film 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet (Un Prophète), this film depicts the horrible choices that will doom their futures, as young males can expect to be continually rounded up and arrested by Israeli police raids into the occupied territories where they are tortured into becoming informers for the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, whose motto is “Defender that shall not be seen” or “The unseen shield,” where they have little choice, as otherwise they’ll simply rot in prison on the mere suspicion of a crime.  And if they are released, their own people suspect they are traitors, that they sold out someone in order to gain their freedom, as that’s the way the system works, so they’re damned either way.  Making matters worse, they’re also humiliated and brutalized when picked up by the Palestinian police, as both sides continually suspect informers in their midst, so the political reality is a hyped up level of elevated paranoia and suspicion, where the legal system simply doesn’t allow due process, so you’re viewed as guilty unless you can prove otherwise, where in all likelihood freedom means you’ve informed on someone. 

Abu-Assad’s earlier films beginning with RANA’S WEDDING (2002) depict the turmoil and daily humiliations of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, though FORD TRANSIT (2003) is often hilarious and satirically charming, where young minibus cab drivers, the most popular form of transportation in the occupied territories, are viewed as local heroes in the reckless abandon on display in running a black market business of contraband while avoiding Israeli checkpoints.  The road from childhood friends to eventual suicide bombers in PARADISE NOW (2005) reveals a discomfortingly yet altogether human view of the conflict, something of a morality tale turning decidedly more fatalistic, where one character suggests, “Under the occupation, we're already dead.”  OMAR, which won the Jury Prize (Special Award) in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, is an outgrowth of that philosophy, where young people growing up today are under no illusions, yet they’re driven to be freedom fighters by a shattered and disintegrated culture desperate to survive, refusing to live under the thumb of the Israeli’s even as they’re forced to on a daily basis.  This Kafkaesque existence of life under siege is impossible to comprehend anywhere else in the world except here, where there is little alternative except to fight back.  Adam Bakri as Omar couldn’t be more enthusiastically energetic as he scales a rope attached to the top of the 30-foot Wall of the Israeli West Bank barrier to visit his girlfriend, constantly seen on the run where he dodges in and out of narrow streets eluding police, even performing acrobatic roof jumps, navigating a circuitous path to the home of best friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani), where he sips tea while passing notes back and forth with his attractive sister Nadja (Leem Lubany), the real object of his desire.  Secretly he pursues a romantic life together, while at the same time he and Tarek, along with another childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat), plot radical acts of revenge against the continuing presence of Israeli occupiers, culminating in the sniper killing of a border policeman.  Not long afterwards, Omar is picked up in an Israeli commando-style military raid in the West Bank. 

What starts out so romantic and brightly optimistic turns suddenly dark and graphically ugly when Omar is brutally tortured, along with nearly all of the other Palestinian prisoners, where life on the inside of a prison is admittedly dour and hopeless.  While they’re looking for the triggerman of the shooting, Omar’s hopes rest with a lack of evidence, but those hopes are dashed when a planted fellow inmate records him claiming he would never confess, something that in this depraved part of the world is as good as a conviction, considered guilt by association, as it suggests he has something to confess.  This bizarre legal reasoning leaves him sentenced to 90-years, where lawyers have no influence on the outcome.  In a stunning metaphor for current Palestinian-Israeli relations, Omar’s options are slim to none, as he can die in prison, a noble believer in the cause but an ineffectual and forgotten entity in an endless struggle, or he can be recruited by the Shin Bet to become an informer, ultimately betraying the only cause he’s ever believed in.  The Israeli handler, Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), is an equally complex figure, as he’s highly intelligent and continually shows genuine empathy for Omar’s precarious position, where he becomes the only person who knows the truth about Omar, perhaps his only friend, but he’s like a mouse in a trap, as there is no escaping the clutches of the secret police.  Once released, on an assignment to set up his friend Tarek, he immediately comes under suspicion in his own community, as they suddenly have their doubts about one of their own.  Whatever his dreams and ambitions may have been about being a force for Palestinian freedom have suddenly been undermined by a deal with the devil.  While he hopes to sort this out on the other side, picking up where he left off with Nadja, making plans to marry her, but things don’t go as planned, where he winds up right back in prison with an even slimmer opportunity to get out.  What’s interesting is the degree of personal intimacy in the conversations between Omar and Rami, which (much like negotiations) rely upon a trust factor, even as they secretly hate and mistrust one another’s real intentions, yet they are destined to play out this sick game together, as Omar insists he can deliver the goods.  But once back on the street he’s become a walking pariah, where no one wants to be seen with him, where he does fit the description of the quote from PARADISE NOW (2005), even more than before.  Turning into something of a psychological thriller, veering into a political hell where best friends are subject to betrayal, as the personal becomes the political, the Biblical reference to Judas looms perilously close, where it’s impossible to imagine being placed into a similar situation.  When seen in this light, captured as an informer, those everpresent media images of massive Palestinian marches and demonstrations hoisting martyred heroes’ coffins in the air through the streets with flags unfurled heralding statehood and nationalistic unity never seemed so pointless and empty, like it’s all just a faded dream from yesteryear.   

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