Hany Abu-Assad’s powerful 2005 drama about suicide bombers, “Paradise Now,” became the first Palestinian movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language film.
His new film, “Omar,” is the second to enter the Oscar race in that category. It, too, focuses on Palestinian rebels who may be freedom fighters. Or terrorists. Or, in the case of “Omar,” childhood friends who use the separation wall in the Occupied Territories to act out climbing games and challenge authority.
The tone at first is surprisingly playful. The wall becomes something to outwit: an almost abstract challenge that will not be ignored. But sometimes the act of climbing it leaves painful-looking rope burns, and occasionally people betray each other or face lethal consequences when they use the wall.
The title character is a Palestinian baker (Adam Bakri) who scrambles over it to visit his girl, Nadja (Leem Lubany), the sister of longtime friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani). When an Israeli soldier is shot and killed, Omar is arrested and tricked into becoming a collaborator.
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As another friend, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), becomes involved, the Israelis spare no torture devices. The contrast between the beauty of the gifted young actors and the gruesome nature of their treatment could not be more pronounced.
In the case of “Omar” and “Paradise Now,” Abu-Assad has created a convincingly noirish hell that feeds on distrust and vengeance.
The blunt ending of “Omar” may come as a shocker, but it also feels inevitable.
John Hartl: email@example.com