Tuesday, June 3, 2014

OMAR (2013) recalls Hitchcock's finest

The original auteur theory film critics were unanimous in their praise of Alfred Hitchcock as a film maker.  One prominent motif noted in Hitchcock was the notion of his Catholicism and how it shaped the universal system of justice underlying all his work.  This sort of theological worldview especially shapes the plot of PSYCHO,  a cinematic experience Hitchcock used as a sort of laboratory of experimentation.  In this sense, OMAR, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is a fitting companion to the 2006 PARADISE NOW, also directed by Abu-Assad, and they stand together to cement his credentials as a powerful suspense director, while what informs this narrative is a uniquely Islamic Palestinian notion of justice and morality, not unlike the underlying notions of Catholicism that underwrote Hitchcock.
The film explores a gamut of emotions in the life cycle of the Palestinian man, embodied in three heroes.  One is strong-headed and brave, another lustful, and the third a romantic.  These notions of gender and how male-ness in Palestinian society is perceived is impressive.  In one specific scene, a Palestinian prisoner is tortured with a butane lighter on his genitalia.  In another, the edge of a knife leads to the climactic revelation from one character.  The national identity itself is held in the balance based on disclosure that inherently denotes collusion and betrayal, along with a link between sovereignty and national identity combined with sexuality that especially reveals the harsher realities of the will to power and domination.
In another sequence, without using any gratuitous nudity, the protagonist and his beloved share a first kiss that takes on as much eros as any of the finest Western romantic films.  What also is striking is that, despite a noticeable growth in budget, Abu-Assad is writing a very claustrophobic story.  Walls, wires, fences, and various restraining devices turn the protagonist into some sort of de-humanized beast, humiliated and treated in the most abhorrent of ways.  One character is constantly rope-climbing the separation wall to visit his girlfriend.  In another scene, the police are set up for an ambush, and in the establishing shots, men are shown stationed at various windows.  This concept of humanity being restrained or cut off by man-made structures, be they hierarchies or architectural realities, helps illustrate a sort of existential reality of Palestinian resistance, one where an Arab majority is consistently beholden to the framing devices of Western society.  By creating these images of man struggling against or being held within these structures, Abu-Assad is able to create a powerful metaphor for his people.

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