BERLIN: Adopt Films Buys Silver Bear Winner "Victoria" for U.S. Adopt Films has acquired U.S. rights to Sebastian Schipper’s thriller “Victoria,” which won the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for cinematography at the Berlin Film Festival.
Dave McNary | Film Reporter
BERLIN: Adopt Films Buys Silver Bear Winner "Victoria" for U.S.
Adopt Films has acquired U.S. rights to Sebastian Schipper’s thriller “Victoria,” which won the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for cinematography at the Berlin Film Festival.
Adopt Films has acquired U.S. rights to Sebastian Schipper’s thriller “Victoria,” which won the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for cinematography at the Berlin Film Festival.
The deal was negotiated by the Match Factory’s Brigitte Suarez and Thania Dimitrakopoulou and Adopt Films’ Tim Grady and Jeff Lipsky. Adopt plans a late summer/early fall 2015 U.S. release.
“Victoria” was shot by Norwegian-born cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen in one continuous 134-minute take, bridging 20 locations. It stars Spanish actor Laia Costa and German thespians Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, and Max Mauff.
It was produced by Jan Dressler. Although the movie is subtitled in English, most of the film’s dialog is in English, in deference to the common language spoken in the film.
Don't be daunted by the running time: This character study from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a richly engrossing experience
Cannes Film Review: ‘Winter Sleep’
Don't be daunted by the running time: This character study from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a richly engrossing experience.
Justin Chang | Chief Film Critic
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is at the peak of his powers with “Winter Sleep,” a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made. Following Ceylan’s sublime 2011 drama “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” this equally assured but considerably more accessible character study tunnels into the everyday existence of a middle-aged former actor turned comfortably situated hotel owner — and emerges with a multifaceted study of human frailty whose moral implications resonate far beyond its remote Turkish setting. Simultaneously vast and intimate, sprawling and incisive, and talky in the best possible sense, the film will be confined to the ultra-discerning end of the arthouse market thanks to its daunting running time and deceptively snoozy title, but abundant rewards lie in wait for those who seek it out at festivals and beyond.
Deep in the central Anatolian region of Cappadocia, a poor boy, Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan), throws a rock at a moving truck and shatters the front passenger window, startling the two men in the vehicle as well as the audience. Not long afterward, Ilyas’ surly drunk of a father, Ismail (Nejat Isler), nearly comes to physical blows with the driver (Ayberk Pekcan), while the other man, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), hangs back at a timid distance. It may not be immediately clear, given how the scene plays out, but this is, in fact, Aydin’s story, and what we’ve just seen is a minor example of his complacency and casual indifference to the suffering around him.
Something of a small-town celebrity due to his earlier acting career and the regular columns he now writes for the local newspaper (Voices of the Steppe), the grizzled, gray-haired Aydin leads a more idyllic life than most. Educated and wealthy, with an abundance of knowledge about Turkish theater that he hopes to turn into a book someday, he runs a small hotel with his much younger wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen). He is also Ismail’s landlord, and has recently had to send around a debt collector — a humiliation not lost on Ismail’s brother Hamdi (Serhat Kilic), an eager-to-please imam who brings young Ilyas around in an attempt to make amends for the (now-explained) glass-breaking incident.
But while the film will eventually return to that matter before the coda, what’s remarkable is the manner in which the script (written by Ceylan and his wife, Ebru) steers away from run-of-the-mill plot mechanics in favor of a more revealing and no less absorbing immersion in the conversations — long, glorious, generously overflowing, superbly sculpted and acted conversations — among Aydin and his friends and family. Some of these run for several minutes on end, as when Aydin gets into an extended argument with his recently divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbag), which steadily devolves into viciously personal character attacks that are clearly not being lobbed for the first time.
Individual character, in fact, is what interests Ceylan most here, and without registering as overly didactic, the moral positions debated in “Winter Sleep” cannot help but rouse similar questions among attentive viewers — about the decisions we make, the images we present to the world, and the degree of grace and empathy we choose to extend to those in need. As soon becomes clear from his sister’s bitter tirade, Aydin is a man whose selfish pride and complacency have largely deadened him to matters of faith and feeling, and who has effectively buried his emotions beneath a carapace of intellectual superiority and practiced cynicism. “I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours,” Necla tells him witheringly.
Still, it’s Nihal who really draws blood when she gets the chance, spurred by a disagreement with Aydin over a charity project she’s undertaken to improve conditions at local schools. Ceylan has captured relationships coming apart at the seams before, notably in 2006’s “Climates,” and the long marital-spat sequence he stages here is a revelation. So is Sozen, who simply mesmerizes in her role as Nihal; within a matter of minutes, the actress lays bare the essence of a beautiful, intelligent, passionate young woman who gave up nearly everything she cared about in order to take a husband many decades her senior, and who resents his interference with one of the few opportunities for personal fulfillment she still has available to her.
Nihal has since come to the irrevocable conclusion that Aydin is, for all his many indisputably fine qualities, “an unbearable man” — arrogant, judgmental, stingy and ultimately misanthropic at heart — and it’s a measure of the integrity of Bilginer’s performance that he does full justice to the charge. Whether he’s strategically deflecting his wife’s criticisms or responding with a patronizing chuckle, he never seems to be making an overt bid for audience sympathy at the expense of emotional truth, and yet he never sacrifices the underlying charm that has no doubt been crucial to his success. A well-known face in Turkish cinema who has racked up several English-language credits over the past few decades (including “Ishtar” and the British soap “EastEnders”), Bilginer brings Aydin fully to life onscreen, making him eminently rewarding company even at his most indefensible.
Uneventful as all this may sound on paper, it will prove entirely involving onscreen for viewers who love the increasingly rare spectacle of vibrantly conceived, fully fleshed-out human characters delving into the emotional muck and mire of their relationships. Aydin and Nihal may be speaking in rapid-fire Turkish, but viewers of any background will pick up on the seething language of emotional warfare, the relentless verbal thrusts and parries, and may well find themselves cringing in recognition.
The film’s tone does shift and broaden unexpectedly in its third and final hour, as Aydin decides, for the sake of his marriage, to retire to Istanbul for the winter. The consequences of the decisions he and his wife make during their time apart are alternately humorous and wrenching, building to an emotional climax that seems to rebuke the characters for their naivete even as it enfolds them in a tender final embrace. Particularly crucial here are the exceptional performances of Isler and Kilic as two very different brothers who, thanks to their everyday struggles with failure and poverty, cannot even afford the luxury of Aydin and Nihal’s bickering self-reflections.
It comes as no surprise that the director’s regular cinematographer, Gokhan Tiryaki, has produced another treasure trove of exquisite widescreen images, taking particular advantage of the Cappadocian landscape as it’s being pelted with snow. And yet, for all the region’s visual wonders — eerie cave formations, buildings cut directly into rock, wild horses galloping freely about — the supreme visual achievement of “Winter Sleep” may well be the beauty it finds in the crags and contours of its actors’ marvelously expressive faces, sustained and magnified at every turn by Ceylan and Bora Goksingol’s crisp, seamless editing. The film’s long midsection will likely have at least a few viewers thinking back to “Scenes From a Marriage,” and indeed, there is something of Bergman’s artistry in the heightened intensity and sensitivity with which Ceylan scrutinizes his characters, though transfixed by their every expression and word.
Musically, the director borrows a page from still another European master: The only accompaniment we hear is a recurring non-diegetic snippet from Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 20 — a direct allusion to Bresson’s “Au hasard Balthazar,” one of the greatest spiritual laments for the human condition ever committed to film. Ceylan’s bracingly humanist vision may not be quite up to that exalted standard, but a tip of the hat feels more than fully earned.
Adopt Films has acquired all U.S. rights to this year’s Cannes Film FestivalPalme d’Or winner, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’sWinter Sleep. The Turkish drama took the top prize despite its daunting 3-hour, 16-minute run time that even had jury president Jane Campion wondering if she’d need a bathroom break in the middle of the Palais premiere. “But it had such a beautiful rhythm and it just took me in,” Campion said at the post-awards press conference. “Actually I could have sat there for another two hours. It was all very Chekhovian. I could see myself in all of the characters.” Adopt plans a year-end 2014 U.S. release.
The film centers on Aydin, a retired actor who runs the Othello Hotel in central Anatolia. The snow begins to fall, and one could say that a cabin fever ensues for Aydin who tends to a stormy relationship with his wife and arguments about rich vs. poor with his recently divorced sister. Ceylan and his longtime writing partner and real-life wife Ebru Ceylan wrote the screenplay and Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbağ, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhat Mustafa Kiliç, and Nejat İşler star.
Adopt Films president Tim Grady and EVP Marketing & Distribution Jeff Lipsky negotiated the deal with Memento Films International’s Tanja Meissner.
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, "Winter Sleep" tells the story of a former actor, now hotel owner and the tumultuous relationship he has with his family.
"'Winter Sleep' is a motion picture that will have movie audiences discussing with great passion its provocative discussions about art and artists, class struggle, and love and marriage. A film like this, so rich with ideas, dazzling dialogue, and intelligent characters, is one that is instantly unforgettable. We are proud to partner with Nuri Bilge Ceylan on his achievement of a lifetime," Adopt Films President Tim Grady and its Executive VP, Marketing & Distribution Jeff Lipsky said in a joint statement.
Adopt Films has also handled distribution for the Oscar nominated "Omar" directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and Yuval Adler's Venice Film Festival award-winning thriller "Bethlehem."
Violette is a film consumed by hunger, as was its heroine, the French writer Violette Leduc: hunger for love, for companionship, for artistic validation. Portrayed with flickering levels of ferocity by the supple-faced Emmanuelle Devos, Leduc forcefully grasps at potential paramours and sucks down cigarettes with the intensity of a person suppressing grander desires. Leduc perceived herself as ugly, and Devos, who dons a slightly exaggerated prosthetic nose for the role, makes her a knotty combination of physical awkwardness and intense yearning, touchingevery book she can find and literally chasing her lovers when they leave her.
She spits barbs when Jean Genet has the nerve to call her "dramatic."
Certainly, those desires drove Leduc's creative impulses: She devoted much of her second published novel to her infatuation with Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), the established writer and feminist who became her mentor and later, her unofficial patron. She named it L'Affamée (Starved).
Violette is the second in director Martin Provost's diptych about female artists that began with 2008's Séraphine, a film based on the life of painter Séraphine de Senlis. Like Séraphine, Violette begins with its protagonist's artistic birth; we see her first angry stabs at writing, and follow her through the publication of her most famous work, the autobiographical La Bâtarde.
Thankfully, Leduc's career turns out nothing like de Senlis's, who died in a mental institution, and her film nothing like the sedate, sometimes aloofSéraphine — she's far too angry, and too jealous, to fade into the background. After being ushered by de Beauvoir into a small circle of Parisian intellectuals that includes Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé) and Albert Camus, Leduc rages against the comparative success of her peers, and freaks when they don't take her seriously. She spits barbs at an unsuspecting bookstore clerk who hasn't heard of her book, and at Genet when he has the nerve to call her "dramatic." AsJacques Guérin (a wealthy perfumer who becomes one of her supporters) puts it when apologizing for an accidental slight: "Everything wounds you."
Provost segments the tale into seven episodes that make its length (well over two hours) more digestible, but hammer home the sameness of Leduc's parasitic attachments: One chapter is named for Guérin, one for Genet, and another for her mother, Berthe (Catherine Hiegel), the subject of Leduc's greatest vitriol and most ardent attachment.
De Beauvoir gets her chapter, too, and Kiberlain's cool elegance provides a necessary counterweight for Devos's wiry energy. But their scenes really belong to Devos, whose darting eyes and slightly stiff posture betray Leduc's discomfort with business-like interactions. This is a woman who prefers not to sit when she could walk nor to talk when she could scream.
Violette can be dour, even melodramatic — Arvo Pärt's Fratres dominates the film's second half, which dedicates increasing time to Leduc's hallucinatory visions. Leduc frequently wears an odd burgundy hat that makes her look like some out-of-place exotic bird; while hiking in the country, she sports lemon yellows and minty greens. These are physical traces of the childlike nature that so often manifests itself in her tantrums and bouts of inconsolable misery, a passion that she can barely contain in words. Provost's film, like its heroine, is full of active, sparking nerves.
Emmanuelle Devos transforms herself, subtly but spectacularly, into the postwar French author Violette Leduc. The writer's tempestuous life and times with icons like Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Genet and Simone de Beauvoir is brilliantly captured in Martin (Seraphine) Provost’s Violette. The film also stars Sandrine Kiberlain as de Beauvoir. Devos discusses Leduc’s era, her bisexuality, drinking, passions, and appearance. In French and English. Recorded at Red Bull Studios New York.
Nearly every character in Violette, Martin Provost's scholastically dense biographical study of landmark French writer Violette LeDuc, makes a point somewhere in the film to criticize its protagonist at length, bemoaning her appearance, her immaturity, her writing skill, her insistence on being. Among the literary circuit of 1940s Paris into which she's bullishly inserted herself, LeDuc is a literal piece of work, a project and process constantly in need of redrafting. She's not merely a creator of texts, but a text herself: Her sexual voracity, self-abasing neurosis, and stubborn commitment to impossible ideals provide the raw material for literary heavyweights like Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé) and, in particular, Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) to shape their own New Woman, a bodily reflection of their own existentialist agendas.
But the reflection is hardly flattering. By focusing on the tumultuous friendship between LeDuc and de Beauvoir, Provost creates not so much a dichotomy of femininity as a funhouse mirror of it: de Beauvoir writes, famously and wonderfully, of the outrage and nefarious desires bubbling within her, but LeDuc gives those urges garish but insistent outward expression; what the former muses on the page, the latter bellows in the streets. Violette takes a major risk in using such bold stokes to characterize its titular subject, with Emmanuelle Devos working hard to uglify herself both inside and out, but the result is hypnotic, as Provost's vision of LeDuc is both a repellant and cannily sympathetic one, a figure forever on the verge of collapsing under the weight of her insatiable desire. Kiberlain's birdlike de Beauvoir, functioning as a surrogate for the audience in many ways, must submerge her own frustrations with tenderness around LeDuc, creating an unnerving pas de deux in which both figures infuriate and inspire each other in equal measure.
Violette is ultimately not the story of LeDuc and de Beauvoir, however, but of LeDuc and her own psychosexual torment, which de Beauvoir exacerbates by rejecting LeDuc's romantic advances and also helps treat by encouraging her to write about her complicated sexual history. The film is an encyclopedia of abuse and rejection, opening with LeDuc's disastrous marriage to gay writer Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py) and observing several foiled attempts at intimacy with old friends and new acquaintances. A true self-saboteur, LeDuc seeks out these rejections with a martyr's fervor, but she only finds release by writing, which allows her to turn her passions inward. Provost chapters his film into six parts, each named after a prominent figure in LeDuc's life, and though their arbitrary placement renders them somewhat pointless as a narrative device, they reflect LeDuc's own way of organizing and understanding life, first in lieu of writing and eventually via writing: Her pain comes from perceiving herself through the lens of others, and her salvation comes from observing others through the lens of self.
DIRECTOR(S): Martin Provost SCREENWRITER(S): Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnour, René de Ceccatty CAST: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel, Jacques Bonnaffé, Olivier Py DISTRIBUTOR: Adopt Films RUNTIME: 132 min RATING: NRYEAR: 2013
Toward the end of Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s powerful new film, Omar, short-listed for the Oscar in the “best foreign language film” category, the eponymous hero (played by Adam Bakri) says to Nadia (Leem Lubany), the woman he has loved and lost: “We have all believed the unbelievable.” The impossible backdrop to their love is the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank; and indeed there is much that is unbelievable about this occupation and the reality it has created and maintained for nearly half a century.
It is hard to fathom how the Israelis themselves can stand to live with the ongoing misery and cruelty they have inflicted, and it’s not so easy to understand how the rest of the world has let them get away with it. Then there is the shadowy space of infinite suspicion and distrust that the occupation naturally breeds among those who live under or in it. Is it possible to believe that your closest friend has sold out, has betrayed you to your common enemy, has bartered your life for his (perhaps to escape an arbitrary life-sentence in prison from a military court, as in Omar’s case)? Is it possible to believe that he hasn’t?
Omar is an ordinary young man, hardly more than an adolescent. He works in a bakery making fresh pita. Scenes of excruciating torment are interspersed regularly, ironically, with images of hot bread coming out of the oven. The Separation Barrier, which mostly separates Palestinians from Palestinians, not Palestinians from Israelis, stands between him and Nadia; from time to time he climbs over it, risking his life, in order to see her. Shooting those scenes, by the way, required the permission of the Israeli authorities; typically, they issued a permit that was good only for part of the way up the Barrier, so the producer had to improvise, and an alternative top-of-the-wall was put up in Nazareth, inside Israel.
Like any young Palestinian, Omar is subject to routine harassment and humiliation by Israeli soldiers. Those who have not seen such things with their own eyes will find the relevant scene, early on in the film, instructive: Omar is stopped by soldiers while walking down the street, then forced to balance himself on a rock while they chat and laugh at him; when he protests, they break his nose. I’ve myself seen much worse incidents in the South Hebron hills, including violent arrest of innocent civilians simply trying to reach their fields or homes.
So far, everything is, one might say, normal for life in Palestine. But Omar becomes involved in the shooting of an Israeli soldier, an incident organized by Nadia’s brother and Omar’s childhood friend, Tarek. Omar didn’t kill the soldier, but he is soon arrested by the General Security Service, the Shin Bet or Shabak, which tortures him and tries to blackmail him into working for the Israelis. Even this somehow falls into the category of the normal. But Abu-Assad tightens the screws with an inventive, even poetic, twist: we follow Omar, temporarily released by his tormentors, as he tries to remain faithful to Nadia and his friends in a situation of continuously escalating, interlocking suspicions, deceit, and inevitable betrayal, both imaginary and real. It isn’t easy to watch, but it has the unmistakable, bitter flavor of truth.
On the level closest to the surface, the film shows us one of the main pillars of the occupation—the deep penetration of Palestinian society by an army of informers and secret agents who provide the information necessary for near-total control. The institutional methods and mechanisms behind this system have been honed by Israel for decades; two excellent recent books by Hillel Cohen, a historian and Arabist at the Hebrew University, describe the early history of these efforts, beginning already in the British Mandate: Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism, 1917–1948 (2008) and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948–1967 (2010). For decades, well-trained Israeli handlers have mastered an evolving and highly effective repertoire of psychological devices and various forms of blackmail that serve first to “turn” their captives into informers, and then to manipulate them. Life under the Occupation, with its Kafkaesque requirement of bureaucratic permits for almost anything a person might want or need to do (movement from place to place, medical treatment, visits to parents or other relatives, building an outhouse, and so on) makes any Palestinian potentially vulnerable to blackmail. That, in fact, is the meaning, also the teleology, of full control. The Israelis have not invented these methods, but they have proven to be very skilled, and unscrupulous, in using them. Among them, needless to say, is the devilish threat to harm or even destroy a loved one, a girlfriend or wife, as we see in this film.
Interestingly, an Israeli film that explores this same territory—Bethlehem, written by Yuval Adler and Ali Wakeed (directed by Adler) and staring the gifted polyglot musician Tsahi Halevi—was released last year and has attracted large audiences in Israel. In its depiction of the occupation, Bethlehem shows Israelis as they like to see themselves, functioning heroically, against all odds, in a dire situation that has, it would seem, been thrust upon them from the outside. What is worse, Bethlehemseems to be driven by the standard axiology of Israeli politics: set at the height of the second Intifada, with suicide bombers a constant threat, the film doesn’t even hint at the possibility that Israeli acts and decisions might have had something to do with the outburst of Palestinian violence that began in the autumn of 2000.
By contrast, Omar has depth, nuance, and a far more complex understanding of life under the occupation. Innocence and complicity are profoundly, unnervingly intertwined in the mind of a person who is struggling to physically survive, to love, and to maintain a modicum of dignity in conditions where there is no longer any hope. In a candid interview in Hebrew (an English translation is posted here), Abu-Assad has said, “The movie is more about love, friendship, and trust” than about politics. “I tried to make a film that represented my paranoid feelings over the past five to six years.” He is also, I think, interested in the particular, lonely intimacy that must mark the relations of a would-be handler and a wouldn’t-be informer.
Indeed, the film smolders with sexual tension, and not only between Nadia and her trapped and driven lover. There is a moment when Rami, Omar’s Israeli handler (brilliantly played by Waleed Zuaiter), gives Omar a gun and explains to him how to use it: “The gun is like a woman. You have to treat it gently, so it will treat you gently.” These words are the oldest cliché in the modern Hebrew lexicon (though by no means limited to Hebrew); Abu-Assad uses them here in order to create a brutal, resonant irony, both overtly erotic and merciless. Like it or not, Palestinians and Israelis inhabit the same tiny, intimate space, the same ravishing landscapes they are so determined to deny to one another. Savagery is sometimes a crooked form of love.
But Omar is also a political film with its own vision that, I think, goes well beyond what Abu-Assad has himself said about the occupation. “I think,” he tells us,
that it’s the system’s elite and not the common people who are responsible. I see a great deal of difference between the two. Clearly, an ordinary soldier at the checkpoint is not innocent, he becomes part of it, but in the final analysis he is a soldier doing his duty. Sometimes it is easier for the soldier to do his duty well. Although I’m very much against injustice, Apartheid, occupation, and discrimination—it is all part of the system. A certain elite has been able to convince its people that this is the only way that we can operate, we have no choice.
It’s a generous, perhaps too generous view. The problem is that these ordinary Israelis, the “common people” who are just people, have mostly, for decades now, elected governments of the extreme right, like the present settlers’ regime run by Netanyahu. Moreover, these same ordinary people continue to demonstrate, day after day, a shocking, willful indifference to the fate of their Palestinian neighbors. Here we touch another, even more fundamental pillar of the occupation, something far more malignant and consequential than anything the Shin Bet can do.
Irony is a flat, pale word for the surreal, sometimes lyrical touches that abound in this film and that inevitably cropped up in the process of its production. Scenes of unmitigated tragedy take place under billboards selling this or that, optimistically portraying happy families living normal lives. A highly convincing chase sequence, involving many people, was filmed in the refugee camp of al-Far’a, near Nablus; there are Palestinians playing Palestinians, and Palestinians playing Israeli soldiers. “We discovered,” says Abu-Assad, “that some of them loved to play the soldiers. We were quite surprised.” To internalize the subtleties, you really need to see the film a second time, listening carefully to the dialogue (or reading the subtitles) and studying Bakri’s astonishing eyes, where incipient tragedy can be plainly seen. For Israelis in particular, this is yet another film about opening one’s eyes.
Given the lethal reality of the occupation, the humanity of Abu-Assad’s vision is a welcome, almost therapeutic achievement. He has taken some flak from Palestinian critics for portraying Rami, the Shin Bet handler, as a real person, with wife and children—not some cut-out monster. Abu-Assad doesn’t think of such people as monsters: “Shabak agents are decent people carrying out an indecent task.” It takes courage to make such statements, even if one might be forgiven for wondering in this case what a word like “decent” might really mean. Is Rami, who is able to talk to his wife on the phone in the midst of a tortuous “conversation” with Omar, still somehow decent—or does this intrusion of the everyday world into a setting of coercion and unbearable pain make the handler even less human, more dissociated and cruel?
How many of us are, in fact, decent? What does it take to remain decent under the conditions of the occupation, on either side of the Barrier? Is it even possible? Can decency coexist with blindness? Rami speaks fluent Palestinian Arabic (Zuaiter, who plays him, is Palestinian) and is even complimented for this by his victim—but is he capable of imagining a Palestinian vision of the world? How many Israelis can do this? What hinders them? Is failure of the imagination a moral defect, perhaps the most consequential of them all? The great merit of this stark film is in forcing such questions, in all their complexity, into the private space of the individual viewer no less than into the public arena of Israel and Palestine.
The relatively new state of Palestine is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Best Foreign Language Film powerhouses like Italy and France. But if anyone's been able to put the West Bank on the world-cinema map, it's Hany Abu-Assad.
The relatively new state of Palestine is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Best Foreign Language Film powerhouses like Italy and France. But if anyone's been able to put the West Bank on the world-cinema map, it's Hany Abu-Assad. Born in Nazareth, the writer-director earned his (and his homeland's) first Oscar nod for 2005's Paradise Now, a tense ticktock chronicle of the last hours of a pair of suicide bombers. He's just earned his second trip to the Academy Awards with Omar — a harrowing, humane Arabic-language import about life under occupation that's part Romeo-and-Juliet love story and part twisty chess-pawn thriller. Adam Bakri stars as the quietly charismatic Omar, a baker who climbs back and forth over the towering Israeli security wall to visit his girlfriend, Nadia (sad-eyed beauty Leem Lubany). After being routinely harassed by Israeli police, Omar and his two buddies shoot a random border guard — less out of political conviction than as a way to regain some sort of power in their powerless lives. Abu-Assad never tries to justify the act. How could he? Instead, he zeroes in on the aftermath: the paranoia and breakdown of loyalty among people who have been friends since birth. With the exception of Waleed F. Zuaiter, who does a remarkable good-cop act as an Israeli agent, the cast is composed of first-time actors who bring realism to a tragic story. It manages to punch you in the gut and break your heart at the same time. A-