With the Certain Regard entry Omar, the only Arab film in Cannes this year, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad returns to the land and themes of his breakthrough story of suicide bombers Paradise Now, and the result will once again divide audiences. There will be those who find the film’s punch-in-the-stomach ending a disturbing apology for violence, and others who will read it as another tragic outcome of events in the Middle East. But whether the film glorifies its young West Bank protagonist as a hero or pities him as a loser without options, it forces the audience to reflect on the endless violence and retaliation in the occupied territories. The fact that Abu-Assad keeps his distance and doesn’t put forward a clear-cut POV on his characters and their actions will limit its appeal for many viewers. But considering the film’s quality and topicality, good footwork on Match Factory’s part should slip it into the niches.
Hany Abu-Assad's Omar begins with its eponymous Palestinian character (Adam Bakri) well on his way to carrying out a sniper attack on an Israeli army base with his two childhood friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). It's a beginning that, in a sense, presumes familiarity with Abu-Assad's Paradise Now, and even Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, a film that Omar evokes on more than one occasion. But while those films explored why people under occupation resort to terrorism, Omar turns its attention to the broader, more long-term consequences of living in oppressed conditions.
Which isn't to say that Omar speaks only to the psychological violence faced by Palestinians. Beyond the attack on the Israeli soldier, the film features more than one scene of brutal interrogation, carried out by Israeli intelligence forces on Omar in hopes of eliciting a confession or information about his accomplices. Yet Abu-Assad portrays this as just one effect of Israeli oppression, and not necessarily the most debilitating one. Omar accrues many scars and bruises over the course of the film, but his face always reclaims its original, clean-cut youthfulness before long. What accumulates are more internal punishments, particularly a festering paranoia among Omar and his friends.
Among the last to do so ahead of the October 1st submission deadline, Israel and Palestine have designated their respective entries for the Foreign Language Oscar race. Israel has selected Bethlehem, Yuval Adler‘s debut feature that he co-wrote with Ali Waked. The movie premiered in Venicebefore heading to Telluride and Toronto. Over the weekend, it scooped six Ophir Awards — Israel’s Oscar equivalent — including BestFeature and Best Director. The film takes place largely in Jerusalem and the West Bank and focuses on an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant, the younger brother of a sought-after militant. Adopt Films acquiredBethlehem for the U.S. last week. Israel last had an Oscar nomination with Joseph Cedar’s 2011 pic Footnote, but has never won in the category.