Director: Hany Abu-Assad (The Courier)
Cast: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany
Runtime: 96 min.
by John DeSando
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and another no less powerful, no less convincing claim.” Amos Oz
It’s not easy to fit the story of Romeo and Juliet into a thriller about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad does it with care and believability. So good is he in that balancing act that the notoriously endless national struggle is almost overshadowed by the challenging love Omar (Adam Bakri) has for Nadja (Leem Lubany).
Palestinian Omar, an impassioned freedom fighter in a street gang, becomes ensnared in a convoluted plot as an informant after being tricked into admitting his guilt by association for an Israeli’s murder. The major theme is betrayal, found everywhere, informing every life.
Scaling the giant separation wall running through occupied Palestine to visit Nadja, however, is less scary than the torture Israelis inflict on him and the betrayal they demand. How he will free himself when he is caught in a covert action is the thriller part of the story.
Taking the pretzel plot one step further is the trickery of getting Omar to be an informant and the torturous path he must take as the tries to play both sides. Indeed, moments occur when the audience may not be sure which side Omar is on as he fights for his life and his love. No matter, family and nationalism will be major players in his fate.
This Oscar-nominated film is a powerful screed against the tactics and dominance of Israelis and a simple Shakespearean-like tale of loyalty, love, and jealousy. With the exception of Waleed Zuaiter as Agent Rami, because the actors are new to acting, they bring naturalism to the all-too-real conflict.
The narrow alleys through which Omar races aptly represent the dangerous nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Nablus nor Nazareth is filmed in any glamorous way. With the impressive claustrophobic compositions and sets, outside and inside, the director has even more skillfully shown through his star-crossed lovers that this war in not over for soldiers or lovers anytime soon:
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com