Palestinian tale of love, politics gets Oscar nomination

Acclaimed film director Hany Abu-Assad's latest film, "Omar," is nominated for an Academy Award.

al-monitor "Omar," directed by Hany Abu-Assad, has been nominated for the best foreign-language film Oscar for the 2014 Academy Awards. Photo by Facebook/Dubai International Film Festival.
Jihan Abdalla

Jihan Abdalla

@jihanabdalla

Topics covered

palestine, oscars, occupation, israeli-palestinian conflict, infiltrators, film production, film

Jan 19, 2014

JERUSALEM — A dozen people sat in a film theater in Jerusalem, silent, gripped by “Omar,” a Palestinian film that has received an Academy Awards Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film.

The film tells the story of Omar, a young Palestinian baker from the West Bank, who is involved in the killing of an Israeli soldier. He is then forced to collaborate with Israeli agents to try to save himself and his friends — while trying to work his way through a web of lies and betrayal.

“It’s easy to see why the film got an Oscar nomination,” Rami Shaker, who came to watch the film with two of his friends, told Al-Monitor. “It’s incredibly powerful and honest.”

On Jan. 16, “Omar,” along with four other foreign films, was announced as a nominee for the 2014 Academy Awards, selected out of a record 76 titles.

For film director Hany Abu-Assad, this is his second film to win such acclaim. His 2005 film “Paradise Now” won a Golden Globe award and was nominated for an Oscar.

“It’s a beautiful feeling,” Abu-Assad told Al-Monitor over the phone from New York. “It means a lot to me personally, but this is also a big win for the actors, the crew and the Palestinian people,” he said.

The film tackles the theme of collaboration with Israel, a taboo topic in Palestinian society. Israel maintains a network of informants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to gather information and track Palestinians involved in anything from rock-throwing to political and armed activity.

For Palestinians, collaborators are the enemy within. They are ostracized by society and disowned by their families, and at times, executed in public as a means of deterrence.

“Collaboration is a part of occupation,” Abu-Assad said. “It damages our resistance against occupation, so it's important for us to talk about it.”

The film portrays collaboration as a struggle, a personal one for those forced into it through blackmail, and an integral part of Israeli occupation, which forcefully imposes a system of control not only on Palestinian land but also on the residents who inhabit it.

The film, however, is not just about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abu-Assad said. “It’s a story about love and life.”

Omar risks his life almost daily scaling the Israeli concrete barrier to see his childhood friends, and Nadia, his love interest. But the love affair is complicated by a conservative society, his arrest and the looming suspicion in his town that he is a spy.

“There were parts that were really hard for us to watch,” Israeli resident Eli Cohen, who came with his wife to watch the film, told Al-Monitor. “But it is always interesting to watch films that portray reality in an artistic and creative way.”

The film, shot in Nazareth and the West Bank, won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Abu-Assad says people loved the film because they can easily identify with the characters, especially the main character.

“Omar is an ordinary person who was put in an extraordinary situation and forced to create balance,” he said. “In many ways all Palestinians are like that.”

The winners of the Academy Awards will be announced on March 2. Abu-Assad, who will remain in New York until then, said he is optimistic that the film will win.

“There’s hope, I am hopeful,” he said.

“I’ve done all I can, now it’s up to destiny to decide.”

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