Less than a week after catching Yuval Adler‘s Bethlehem I saw another ace-level melodrama about the Palestinian-Iraeli conflict last night — Hany Abu-Assad‘s Omar. It tells a roughly similar story about a Palestinian youth informing for the Israelis and being suspected by his own. In fact, my description of Bethlehem — “a lucid, tightly wound thriller that regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a filter of double-agenting, family matters, betrayal and anxiety” — pretty much applies to Omar. I’m not sure which film is better, but they’re both expert grippers. So we’ve got two superb films about similar subjects — Bethlehem the official Israeli entry and Omar submitted by the Palestinian territories. How can the Academy’s foreign-language committee select one and not the other?
Abu-Assad’s last film was the acclaimed Paradise Now (’05).
From Jay Weissberg‘s Variety review, filed during the 2013 Cannes Film Festival: “As he did with Paradise Now, Abu-Assad refuses to demonize characters for their poor choices. Only too aware of the crushing toll of the Occupation on Palestinians, he shows men (the film is male-centric) making tragic, often self-destructive decisions as a result of an inescapable environment of degradation and violence.
“With Omar he’s finessed the profile, depicting how the weaknesses that make us human, especially love, can lead, in such a place, to acts of betrayal. It’s as if he’s taken thematic elements from Westerns and film noir, using the fight for dignity and an atmosphere of doubt to explain rather than excuse heinous actions. Viewers with a firm moral compass, who see killing as an act always to be condemned, won’t need Omar to tell them what’s right and wrong.”