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March 02, 2014

Oscar-nominated 'Omar' Explores Love, Betrayal Under Israeli Occupation

by Penelope Poulou

All five Academy Award contenders for Best Foreign Language Film deliver universal messages while immersing audiences in their distinct cultures.

One of these films, Hany Abu-Assad’s thriller Omar  from Palestine, is the first film to be endorsed by the Palestinian authority.

Omar is a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the Israeli separation barrier to visit his girlfriend Nadia and his childhood friends Tarek and Amjad. Both Omar and Amjad are in love with Nadia.  Her brother Tarek uses the rivalry and asks them to prove themselves by killing an Israeli soldier. Amjad does the killing but Omar gets arrested for it.

Rami, an Israeli security agent, ensnares Omar with an ultimatum. Either he becomes a collaborator or he spends the rest of his life in jail.

Omar lies to the Israelis, but they're always one step ahead of him. Soon he realizes there is a traitor among his friends and he, Omar, is the scapegoat. Mistrust and jealousy corrode the friendships, leading to betrayal and a tragic end.

Abu-Assad says his film shows how oppression can corrupt the oppressed because it eats away at people’s integrity.

“In order to let people who don’t know what does it mean to live under extreme circumstances, we let them live in a story that they recognize because it's about friendship, it is about love, and it is about trust,” he said.

According to Abu-Assad, his film is playing in all Palestinian cities which he hopes will signal the beginning of a more robust Palestinian cinema.

As a nominee, the filmmaker says the Academy’s recognition has popularized the message of his film to viewers around the world.