Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar understands a particular virtue of social awareness: that we are ultimately individuals and that the problems people face are not, theoretically, social problems but rather human problems. Set near the dividing wall between Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, Abu-Assad is not concerned with explaining the social or political discord of the arena. Beyond the language and flashing images of the Israeli flag, the aptly named Omar could take place just about anywhere. Omar is rather a film that demonstrates how an individual must function within a strained sociological landscape, where concerns of politics and economics come head-to-head with the most primal of human instincts: love.
Omar (Adam Bakri) is first seen climbing the dividing wall. With border patrol routinely overseeing the area, it’s both a physically taxing climb and a very dangerous one - Omar is shot at on his first of many climbs up. He sees his two childhood friends on trip to the other side, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Iyad Hoorani). Tarek’s sister Nadia (Leem Lubany) rounds out the pack, with Omar and Amjad clearly smitten with the young woman. But this, at least at first, does not cloud the three men’s ambitions - they’re part of a rebellion cause to end the Israeli occupation.
The three men evoke archetypes for the most part: Omar’s the pensive solider, Tarek the scheming leader, and Amjad is the racketeer of the men’s work. Following a shooting on an Israeli military compound, Omar is incarcerated and threatened with a life sentence. His only way out of the circumstance would be to betray the cause. All this hinders his ultimate goal - which is to marry Nadia. Much of this perhaps reads as heightened melodrama but Abu-Assad proves capable in circumventing much of this through his calculated direction. The picture could have merely unspooled as a series of dramatized events, but the tightness of the direction and the exactness of the pacing give Omar an immediate visceral thrill. For example, much of the film is dedicated toward Omar and Nadia’s relationship; a problem given that Omar’s individuality is wrapped up in his militant cause. The two understand the political situation that’s preventing them from marrying, but eventually that gives way to a passionate kiss between the two that provokes more intimacy than most other films could muster. Abu-Assad’s ability to ratchet tension, both within personal and political spheres, is a surprising revelation. Even at his most conventional, with Omar featuring its fair share of foot chases, Abu-Assad utilizes the physical spaces to great effect, realizing many of these sequences in narrow alleyways that feel as if their closing in on the main character himself.
Accusations toward Omar’s limited political scope betrays the fundamental idea that Abu-Assad goes for at the start of the film: to demonstrate that political strife can eventually dissolve into a matter of procedure where people choose sides and are therein stripped of individual identity. People eventually become the cause and therefore speak strictly from those terms. Omar presents a character that starts as a soldier of that cause and eventually, after being exposed to the cruelty of his comrades and the opposition, looks for something devoid of any political context: for the woman he loves.