Friday, 28 February 2014

OMAR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Oases of humanity amidst the Conflict! Oscar-nominated thriller exposes love, loyalty and retribution against Palestinian-Israeli backdrop. There, but by the Grace of God go all of us.

In a crazy world, what do the problems of little people ever really amount to?

Omar (2013) ****
Dir. Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Adam Bakri, Waleed Zuaiter, Leem Lubany

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In the final moments of his stunning Oscar-nominated thriller Omar, Director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) slams you with a two-by-four to the face, but good-goddamn, it's satisfying. Knowing this is going to be no spoiler, no surprise, no shock whatsoever since the picture's flesh-curdling slow-burn is punctuated every so often with jolts of breathtaking ferocity.

Violence, however, is always contrasted with sweet and delicate moments of precious humanity which, like oases, lull you under the hot sun of the West Bank - so much so that it's not as if you never expect the conclusion will do anything but knock you on your ass, leaving you both winded and perversely elated. Like the best thrillers, you never see the worst coming. You feel it's an inevitability, to be sure, but even so, it doesn't mean you aren't clutching the arms of your seat, ready for anything at any given moment.

If truth be told, this surely comes as close as we're likely to get on film to what life must be like along the wall that separates the colonized and the colonizers amidst a never-ending conflict that feels omnipresently close to all of us in spite of being worlds away from what one outside of the ongoing deadly dissent is normally used to. Can we ever really know what such a life must be like without actually being there and living it? Of course not, but watching Omar, it's a testament to Abu-Assad's exemplary gifts as a filmmaker that we feel we're as mired in the thick of it as we ever want to be.

Omar (Bakri) is a handsome, sweet-faced young baker who risks being cut down daily by gunfire as he scales the deadly West Bank wall to see Nadia (Lubany), the beautiful woman he so desperately loves. Ah, but if it were only this simple. Life here is anything but. Omar risks life and limb to fight for the emancipation of his people as we find him on the precipice of actively joining the fray of violent political activism. As a burgeoning soldier of the Palestinian revolution, it feels like he has no choice - that he's been born into an eternal struggle against his Israeli oppressors. Joining his best friends on a deadly mission, Omar is caught between a rock and a hard place when he's eventually targeted to turn in his cohorts by Rami (Zuaiter), an Israeli secret agent who offers freedom and protection in exchange for this betrayal. Omar learns quickly that dealing with the devil never ends quickly or easily and in fact, has no end unless he can find a way of playing both sides against the centre to keep himself truly safe. It's cat and mouse all the way, only the odds increase exponentially with every ever-increasing malignancy of a game that feels like a vortex of infinite betrayal.

There's never any doubts as to where our sympathies must lie. The violence, death, deception, terror and torture reside around every paranoid corner and no matter what side of the equation we're on, there can be no doubting that this is no way for any human being to live. It's a movie that feels like there are no false notes and Abu-Assad's artistry and virtuosity as a filmmaker allows for superb performances, complex character study as well as all the edge-of-the-seat suspense any picture can deliver.

The film's greatest triumph, however, is its unwavering humanity in the face of war's utter madness and that for much of the film, we're carried along by both love and commitment to such a degree that Omar is as much a condemnation of this way of life - on both sides - as it is a testament to loyalty in the face of betrayal. It doesn't take much to see that the problems of little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

But, oh, they do. They most certainly do.

"Omar" is in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.