Hany Abu-Assad is a Palestinian filmmaker and, unsurprisingly, has some intriguing stories to tell. His lack of style might not be to everyone’s taste and melodrama is never far away, but a looking glass into what life is truly like in a West Bank village is a journey in itself.
Omar (Adam Barki), Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and Tarek (Eyad Hourani) met in kindergarten and now belong to the same revolutionary group. Omar and Amjad are both competing for the hand of Nadia (Leem Lubany), Tarek’s sister, and it is up to Tarek to decide who the successful suitor will be. In the meantime, the three carry out an assault on an Israeli checkpoint and a guard is shot dead. They escape, but discover there is a traitor in their midst when Omar is arrested and questioned. The police do not have enough evidence for a prosecution, so he is released, but from that time on the three are dogged by the events of the night they took an Israeli life.
The film opens with Omar loitering by a 30’ wall. The moment the street is deserted, he uses a rope to scale the graffiti-daubed barrier that separates him from his friends. He slithers up the sheer face with the agility of someone who has done this many times, but when he reaches the top, a bullet smashes into the concrete inches away. He swoops away, losing his aggressors in the narrow alleyways that would swallow up a less wily fugitive.
This sequence is the audience’s first glimpse of what life is like for the people who occupy this divisive land and the stark wall and unrelenting labyrinth are apt metaphors for the Palestinians’ plight. However, the pace soon slows and, although the story is easy to follow, it’s often episodic and a lot of information is missing, in particular about the lives of the characters as revolutionaries. The three act like free-wheeling dissidents and it’s confusing to discover that they’re actually members of a recognized faction. There’s also a lack of information about the characters themselves, who are difficult to relate to as their emotions are as hidden as the secrets they keep.
What this film does well, and what was undoubtedly the filmmaker’s intent, is to forever embolden the line between terrorist and freedom fighter. Is Omar a terrorist, as the Israelis claim, or is he a principled man, unwilling to accept the humiliation his oppressors subject him to on a daily basis? There seems to be only one answer, which means the real answer won’t come from those dusty West Bank streets, but from across a mahogany table, when enough finally becomes too much, and the lion lays down with the lamb.
Limited theatrical release.
Now streaming on Netflix.