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Film Review of the Week: Omar

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Omar is a twentysomething Palestinian freedom fighter torn between allegiances to country, friendship and love in Omar, an expertly plotted double-cross flick opening this weekend at the Cedar Lee Theatre. The film, in Arabic with subtitles, preserves the integrity and solemnity of tensions in the Middle East while delivering edge-of-your-seat rebel infighting and police state intrigue.

Early in the action, Omar (a wiry, versatile Adam Bakri) is apprehended by Israeli police for his involvement in the murder of an Israeli soldier. This murder — small potatoes, it would seem, in the rebels’ grander scheme — was orchestrated in tripartite fashion by Omar, a high-ranking freedom fighter named Tarek, and Amjad, Omar’s childhood chum. Tarek also happens to be the steely big brother of Nadia, a waifish high-schooler for whose affections Omar and Amjad are secretly competing. So there’s that.

Once caught, Omar is tortured, interrogated, and released only when he agrees to cooperate after being tricked into an oblique admission of guilt. Thus begins the young man’s odyssey: first to survive, by playing both sides (a dizzying prospect in the West Bank — a truly frenzied and paranoid slice of the globe’s ethnic pie), but also to win “the girl” and to root out a traitor among the rebels’ ranks.

In about 95 minutes, Omar packs in a great deal of plot. The film’s final act is a series of complex, evolving and utterly satisfying payoffs. (The final scene is an unexpected beaut). The action of the film’s first two acts isn’t of the explosive blockbuster variety, but should appease the Bourne enthusiasts, with at least two extended bazaar chases and handguns for the whole class.

The film is Palestinian, of course, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, who was behind the acclaimed Paradise Now, about suicide bombing recruits in Tel-Aviv. And Omar certainly sympathizes with the rebels, but does not fail to create at least one 3-D character on the Israeli side, a family-man captor who seems genuinely to want to help Omar out of his bind.

What’s especially impressive about this film, though, is the degree to which it remains a lovely little love story, in the midst of terrifying political trappings. Omar and Nadia exchange notes; flirt in the bumbling, novice way of young people growing up in a culture allergic to sex; and make the silly (and sometimes very serious) mistakes of kids who value their first loves much more than they ought. Omar’s inner struggles are visualized overtly by the West Bank security wall, which he scales nimbly to get to his love and his friends early in the film, but which he struggles to climb when he doesn’t, and can’t, know whom to trust.

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