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West Bank and romance prominent in 'Omar'

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SIAN WATSON | May 23, 2013 07:45 PM EST | AP

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CANNES, France — One of the more buzzed-about films at the Cannes Film Festival, "Omar," is set in the West Bank, and the Palestinian conflict is a key part of the plot.

But the film's lead actor, Adam Bakri, says the location or political motif isn't that important.

"The fact is that it is an international story, it happens in the West Bank but it doesn't even say in the film that it happens in the West Bank," he explained.

"So everybody can identify with it. Everybody can really go with it. I think it has a very strong political message but it is underneath, it is not straightforward, which I think is the genius of the film."

"Omar," which is being shown in the "A Certain Regard" section of Cannes, is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, director of the 2005 film "Paradise Now," which won earned him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for best foreign film.

In his latest film, the Israeli-born director of Palestinian descent uses the political upheaval between Palestinians and Israel as the backdrop to a love story between characters Omar and Nadia. Omar must climb the separation wall between the Palestinian territories and Israel to see his love, and during one attempt, he is brutally attacked by an Israeli soldier. Afterward, he and his friends band together to kill an Israeli soldier in revenge, and the plot takes more twists.

Despite the political threads in the film, Abu-Assad said the film's romantic plot is the key component.

"I don't know anybody in this world who didn't enter the experience of being madly in love with someone. Me too. And I am always fascinated by how people lose themselves in this subject and how they become insecure. Actual insecurity is the reason why people are in love, but also why this love ends up very badly," he said.

"All love stories in history end up tragic, `Romeo and Juliet,' `Othello,' but also like in our modern history, `Casablanca,' even the `Titanic' you know, it is a tragic ending. `In the Mood for Love,' that is a great love story," Abu-Assad continued. "All of these examples gave me the inspiration to do something about my version of love and betrayal but involved in a political thriller because I love political thrillers. These two genres I tried to mix in a way that could become an exceptional movie."

American-born actor Waleed F. Zuaiter is among the actors in "Omar" and also helped Abu-Assad get financing for the film. Abu-Assad has said it is the first film to be completely financed by Palestinians.

"I jumped into it head first, asked as many questions as I possibly could to learn things on the producer's side, and here we are," Zuaiter said.

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