Friday, March 14, 2014

Omar (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Omar” One of Oscar’s Best Foreign Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

On one level, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on in a spy story. Like the old Mad Magazine cartoon, it’s about Spy vs. Spy. You never know which one is the good guy and which is the bad.

This means setting ideology aside for the sake of the story.

So when you see “Omar” -- the Best Foreign Film nominee that’s currently showing at the Tropic Cinema -- don’t be put off that our protagonist is a Palestinian terrorist.

Rather than a political polemic, this is a romantic thriller that examines how people fair when forced to play both ends against the middle.

The title character is a young baker by day, a freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on your viewpoint) by night.

Omar (Adam Bakri) gets captured after one of the forays across the West Bank into Israel he’s forced to become a double agent. Seems his two childhood friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), have killed a soldier and Omar’s guilty by association.

“If you don’t work for us, your life will be hell forever … and so will your girlfriend’s,” an Israeli intelligence agent (Waleed F. Zuaiter) tell him.

How can Omar serve two masters? But he must try, for he wants to marry his girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany). A lot is at stake.

To make matters worse, Omar begins to suspect that there is an informant among his friends.

“There’s a traitor among us,” is the word. “Everybody is a suspect.” Omar included.

“That’s what they want,” says Omar, “paranoia.”

“You’re a traitor,” accuses his girlfriend. “Everybody says so.”

“Everybody has got it wrong,” he replies. “Just hold on and we’ll be together.”

You’ll be staggered by the unpredictable climax in this complex cat-and-mouse game.

Betrayal is the theme of the film.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accepted “Omar” as a Palestinian entry, even though director Hany Abu-Assad was born in Israel, and much of the film was shot in Nazareth, an Israeli town, using Israeli actors. However, he filmed it with a Palestinian crew and Palestinian financing.

This is Abu-Assad’s second Oscar-nominated film, the first being “Paradise Now.” That too was listed as a Palestinian film “after a tussle with the Israeli consulate” over the proper designation.

As for the Academy Awards nod, Abu-Assad says, “I was there once, and I’m nervous because you know the process and the pressure and tension is big. On the other hand, I know it’s just one big casino.”

As it turned out, “Omar” lost out to that wonderful Italian film “The Great Beauty.” But you don’t get an Oscar nod without being one of the best films in the world. And in the Middle East, no matter which country claims it.

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