Of all the striking images in Palestine’s Omar, the one most repeated is its namesake scaling a wall. The most imposing is the Israeli barrier between his neighborhood and his beloved’s, which he crosses with the ease of long practice, but once caught between his childhood friends and the Israeli secret police, he finds there are walls everywhere, and some just can’t be conquered. Sooner or later, you fall.
Director Hany Abu-Assad has garnered major worldwide accolades for Omar, including a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards. It’s easy to see why; his character study’s twists and turns, which tighten around Omar with the awful inevitability of a vise, brings home again and again the impossibility of living an uncompromised life in such impossibly compromised circumstances.
But rather than becoming a political parable, Omar wisely throws its focus on how the conflict encroaches on its hero’s life, and the film finds a worthy anchor in its lead. Newcomer Adam Bakri is an astonishing presence, his still waters running deep, with vast conflicts playing out in a single glance. He’s charming with girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany), heavy with the halting intimacies of first love, but his slow breakdown as he’s trapped between opposing forces is a marvel to watch.
The supporting cast of unknowns brings an organic camaraderie that becomes an abscess of doubt and suspicion as the betrayals add up. And Omar can’t escape—even as he waits for a call from one of the sides he’s desperately playing, he’s under a sign advocating social responsibility, with two laughing children pulling at a sapling that looks about to break.
A tense and engaging character piece treading easily on uneasy ground, Omar is a powerful examination of a young man in an impossible position.