The movie's director and lead actors are Israeli Arabs who
identify as Palestinian. And while it depicts lovers literally
walled-off by Israel's West Bank barrier, and a hero brutalized
by Israeli secret police, the $2 million drama was filmed mostly
in Nazareth, northern Israel, without hindrance.
"Whatever we wanted, we could shoot. And this is a great
attitude. I think they (Israeli authorities) were smart to do
that, because every journalist will ask me, 'How was your
shoot?' and I have no stories to tell," writer-director Hany
Abu-Assad said in a telephone interview.
Such a conciliatory spirit is absent from "Omar", however — as
elusive as actual Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, which world powers hope will emerge from peace talks
The film looks at the grind of life under Israeli military
occupation: A young Palestinian lethally lashes out at the army
and is punished with pressure to spy on his own side or end up
in prison with no prospects of marrying the woman he loves.
Betrayal, and the mistaken perception of betrayal, follow, with
bleak and bloody consequences — a plot which Abu-Assad says was
inspired by Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello".
"The problem of Othello was his insecurity. When you are
insecure, you start to believe the unbelievable. When you are in
paranoia, you can't make rational decisions," he said.
"I think we all have this moment in life — unless you live in
this luxury where you don't have to live under extreme pressure — and then we feel the powerlessness of our existence. We
Palestinians know that."
"Omar" is the second Abu-Assad film nominated for an Oscar.
His previous entry, the 2005 thriller "Paradise Now", depicted
Palestinian suicide bombers sympathetically and infuriated many
Israelis — some of whom complained to the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences. It did not win.
[to top of second column]
Almagor, an Israeli group representing those
bereaved or wounded by Palestinian attacks, says it will lobby
against "Omar" too. Abu-Assad thinks such censure is misplaced,
especially as his latest film is less overtly polemical.
"The movie is really about what happens in your
friendship and love when you do actions that can affect that and how
you do the balance between your duty and desire," Abu-Assad said.
"A movie should show you what you don't like, also. I mean, we
should discuss this," he said. "Nobody agrees with the actions of
'The Godfather', yes? But still we appreciate that movie because it
lets us see the picture from a different point of view. If this will
threaten your ideas, then there is something wrong with your ideas."
Like many among Israel's 20 percent Arab minority,
Abu-Assad, 52, describes himself as Palestinian. Screening "Omar" in
Tel Aviv, he declined to speak Hebrew, opting for English: "I want
them (Israeli Jews) to do the same effort to understand me as I will
do to understand them."
"Omar" had a $2 million budget, he said, 95 percent of it raised
from Palestinian businesspeople and the rest from Dubai.
Israel's entry for the Oscars, "Bethlehem", which also deals with
West Bank espionage, did not make the short-list.
"I am against how they (most Israelis) see this conflict," Abu-Assad.
"They don't want to accept the idea that they are the occupier. But
it ("Bethlehem") was very interesting for me. It wasn't just an
entertaining and good movie. Politically, it was mind-opening."
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.