Hailed as a modern day Romeo and Juliet, the Oscar nominated OMAR is set to be released into UK cinemas at the end of this month. The latest film from the award-winning director Hany Abu-Assad, and nominated in the best foreign film category at the 2013 Oscars, OMAR features all the trials and tribulations of a traditional epic love story, yet instead of being set in the ancient city of Verona, war torn Palestine serves as its backdrop.
OMAR tells the story of a sensitive young baker (Adam Bakri) who makes the daily crossing over the Palestinian separation wall, becoming accustomed to dodging surveillance bullets as he goes, all in the name of love. This is where the parallels between Shakespeare’s epic play and OMAR begin; Omar is crossing the separation wall to meet Nadia (Leem Lubany), his secret love, much like Romeo’s secret journeys to meet Juliet. He then finds himself having to prove himself worthy to Nadia’s family, and so in her name he becomes a freedom fighter, finding himself having to make difficult choices about love and manhood.
In a critical moment of the film, Omar is tricked into admitting his participation in a particular offence in which he was uninvolved. However, he escapes and so he falls into a cat and mouse game with the military police; this proves to be one of the best moments of the film, adrenaline fuelled and filled with suspense and intrigue. Suspicion and betrayal begin to jeopardise all of his relationships; his long time trust with accomplices and childhood friends deteriorates, and even Nadia begins to question his motives.
It soon becomes clear, however, that everything Omar does is in aid of his love for Nadia, and this is something that we must have faith in. In this vein, the main theme of OMAR, according to Abu-Assad, is trust and how it is very important for human relationships yet also very volatile. He said: “Trust is the core of love, friendship, and loyalty; it is tangible and can be both very strong, yet also very fragile at the same time.”
“I am interested in exploring the complexities of the human experience. My desire to unravel these complexities of human emotion are endless.”
The inner turmoil which Omar must face during the 96 minute film appear to be very indicative of Palestine itself; as Omar’s feelings become torn apart, it becomes reminiscent of the tears in the Palestinian landscape. Although filmed mostly in Nazareth, as opposed to Palestine, director Hany Abu-Assad felt strongly about having as many ties to Palestine as possible; this involved having an all-Palestinian crew.
Abu-Assad spoke of how he heard a true story of his friend’s own experiences with government blackmail and involvement with military police, which inspired Omar’s story. He said: “Upon hearing this [story], I immediately knew I had to delve into this subject; to explore how such circumstances and actions would affect love, friendship, and trust.”
“For me, real life often provides the most vibrant material for any storyteller, and in the case of OMAR this is zero exception.”
Abu-Assad credited believability as being of greater importance than reality within his filmmaking, and he expressed how this was of paramount importance during casting. He described Bakri, who plays the title character, as a true discovery and on his casting of fresh young actors he said: “The most important things were their believability, their ability to express deep emotions, and, when in combination with one another, the creation of a dynamic force.”
One of the most poignant aspects of the film is its exploration of the human side of freedom fighters, and the balance of the good and less honorable sides in each of us. The resistance of these young men attract unfavourable assumptions through their sometimes extreme methods, yet Abu-Assad’s depiction of Omar creates a level of empathy with the audience. It is a film that neither solely condemns nor defends a human being, and for this it must receive praise.
The critically acclaimed OMAR is released in selected cinemas throughout the UK on Friday 30th May.
How far would you go for the one you love?