Palestine's tragic Oscar hopeful tests identity, ideas

Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:07am EST
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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The complexities and contradictions of the Middle East conflict come into play in both the real-life production story and fictional plot of "Omar", Palestine's contender for a best foreign language film Oscar.

The movie's director and lead actors are Israeli Arabs who identify as Palestinian. And while it depicts lovers literally walled-off by Israel's West Bank barrier, and a hero brutalized by Israeli secret police, the $2 million drama was filmed mostly in Nazareth, northern Israel, without hindrance.

"Whatever we wanted, we could shoot. And this is a great attitude. I think they (Israeli authorities) were smart to do that, because every journalist will ask me, 'How was your shoot?' and I have no stories to tell," writer-director Hany Abu-Assad said in a telephone interview.

Such a conciliatory spirit is absent from "Omar", however - as elusive as actual Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which world powers hope will emerge from peace talks with Israel.

The film looks at the grind of life under Israeli military occupation: A young Palestinian lethally lashes out at the army and is punished with pressure to spy on his own side or end up in prison with no prospects of marrying the woman he loves.

Betrayal, and the mistaken perception of betrayal, follow, with bleak and bloody consequences - a plot which Abu-Assad says was inspired by Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello".

"The problem of Othello was his insecurity. When you are insecure, you start to believe the unbelievable. When you are in paranoia, you can't make rational decisions," he said.

"I think we all have this moment in life - unless you live in this luxury where you don't have to live under extreme pressure - and then we feel the powerlessness of our existence. We Palestinians know that."   Continued...

Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, of Oscar nominated foreign-language film "Omar" poses in Los Angeles, California, January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian