Winner of the second-place Special Jury prize in the Un Certain Regard side section at Cannes in May, Palestinian thriller “Omar” hits Parisian screens this Wednesday, October 16.
Telling the story of three friends who take up arms against the Israeli occupation (and clash over the sister of one of the young men, whom the other two love), the movie is from Hany Abu-Assad, director of 2006 Foreign Language Oscar nominee “Paradise Now”.
Though “Omar” isn’t as gripping or urgent as the earlier movie -- about a pair of would-be suicide bombers -- it remains an absorbing, powerfully directed look at hopes and relationships ravaged by the world’s most intractable conflict.
In the film, an Israeli agent tries to turn one of the Palestinian militants into a mole, and the two characters share a few surprising bonding moments. Still, Abu-Assad (who has an Israeli passport but considers himself 100% Palestinian) was careful to point out that he was not pushing a message of peace in his film, which ends on a note of bristling anger.
“It’s not my job to give hope for reconciliation,” he told FRANCE 24 at Cannes after the film’s press screening. “My job is to let audiences, whether it’s Palestinians, Israelis, Europeans, anyone, live a life that they can’t live in reality.”
And while Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux introduced the film as an example of the cinematic fertility of Israel and the Palestinian territories, Abu-Assad resists being lumped in with Israeli peers.
“I don’t feel connected to Israeli cinema. There’s a kind of barrier between me and the art of the occupier,” he confided. “Maybe I’m too traumatised.”
He did, however, admit to liking some Israeli movies “here and there”, citing Ari Folman (whose latest film, “The Congress”, was also at Cannes in was released recently in Paris) as a “great filmmaker”.
As for his next project, Abu-Assad said only that it is about a road trip and is not directly about Israeli-Palestinian strife. He also acknowledged the challenge of making a Palestinian film that is not, in some way, about the occupation.
“If you show Palestinians travelling in a car, you have to show the checkpoints,” he offered as an example. “Even if the story isn’t about the conflict, you can’t fully avoid it.”