OMAR – Soldier on the West Bank

By Miv Evans
The Entertainment Magazine

Hany Abu-Assad is a Palestinian filmmaker and, unsurprisingly, has some intriguing stories to tell. His lack of style is disappointing and melodrama is never far away, but a looking glass into what life is truly like in a West Bank village is a journey in itself.

Omar (Adam Barki), Amjad (Tamer Bisharat) and Tarek (Eyad Hourani) met in kindergarten and became revolutionaries together. Omar and Amjad are both suitors for the hand of Nadia (Leem Lubany), Tarek’s sister, and both are convinced the prize will be theirs. Despite their rivalry, the three unite for their cause and carry out a series of assaults, one of which is at an Israeli checkpoint and a guard is shot dead. They escape, but realize there’s a traitor in their midst when Omar is arrested and questioned. The police don’t have enough evidence for a prosecution, so he’s released, but from that time on the three are dogged by the repercussions of that night.

The film opens with Omar loitering by a 30’ wall. The moment the street is deserted, he scales the graffiti-daubed barrier that separates him from his friends. He slithers up the sheer face with the agility of someone who has done this many times, but when he reaches the top, a bullet smashes into the concrete inches away. He swoops away, losing his aggressors in the narrow alleyways that would swallow up a less wily fugitive.

This sequence is the audience’s first glimpse of what life is like for the people who occupy this divisive land and the stark wall and unrelenting labyrinth where Omar finds himself, are apt metaphors for the Palestinians’ plight. However, the pace soon slows and, although the story is easy to follow, it’s often episodic and a lot of information is missing, in particular about the lives of the characters as revolutionaries. The three act like free-wheeling dissidents and it’s confusing to discover that they’re actually members of a recognized faction. There’s also a lack of information about the characters themselves, who are difficult to relate to as their emotions remain distant, like the secrets they all have to keep.

What this film does well, and what was undoubtedly the filmmaker’s intent, is to forever embolden the line between terrorist and freedom fighter. Is Omar a terrorist, as the Israelis claim, or is he a principled man, unwilling to accept the humiliation his oppressors subject him to on a daily basis? There seems to be only one answer, which means the real answer won’t come from the litter-strewn West Bank streets, but from across a mahogany table, when enough finally becomes too much, and the lion lays down with the lamb.

RELEASE

Now streaming on Netflix.

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