Oscars for Foreign Language Films: Omar and Bethlehem

Omar, one of the five nominees for Foreign Language Film Oscar did not win. The sumptuous Italian film, The Great Beauty, did. But the Palestinian entry, about a young Palestinian man who, despite his youthful dreams of love, peace and freedom, becomes an asset for Israeli intelligence, offers a glimpse into the fraught Middle East situation. With another film opening this week, Bethlehem, Israel's entry for the Academy Award that did not get nominated, Omar doubles the picture of despair about the region. The films' titles say much about their differences: Omar has a sympathetic character at center: in the film Bethlehem, the arid Biblical place is the focus, yet each features individuals on opposite sides of the conflict sacrificed in cycles of violence.

I had the opportunity to interview Bethlehem's director, Yuval Adler, who wrote the script with Ali Waked, a Palestinian writer and journalist.

Tell me about your collaboration with Ali Waked.

We don't use the word collaboration, a loaded term. We use joined efforts. A writer friend introduced me to Ali. The film was my idea: to show the behind the scenes on how we get intel. The price of collaboration is so high. What is the human bond that must be established?

Is this a fictional follow up to the Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers?

[Dror Moreh's 2012 movie, The Gatekeepers, interviews with the elite Shin Bet,] made people more aware of the issues. We started working in 2007. The script took 4 years. Intelligence people are interviewed to provide an understanding of where these wars are really fought, on the streets. Inspired by The Wire, we ask, how do we get information? The secret service gets their intelligence by nurturing relationships, finding people who have a hole in their lives, and using them. I interviewed everyone including CIA groups and found, the only thing that works in developing assets is an emotional connection; it is not short term, that is, you can develop such a relationship for 2 weeks and walk away, but not for 2 years. They end up betraying entire worlds. We show the exploitative emotional duality.

Do you believe in the two-state solution?

I do not give my opinion. Both sides have an agenda they want to promote. I try not to preach, but allow audiences to have their own opinions. We tried to stay away from the pornography of the occupation: fences, clichés. All are compromised, the 3 protagonists: the boy, his brother, secret service. All are flawed. An interpretation of these characters is not part of the writing. The film should not offer a solution. Without being judgmental, audiences identify with the kid in an endless cycle, trapped. I am an optimist by allowing Palestinians and Israelis to see all sides. I believe, there can be and must be a solution.

What is the reception to this film in Israel?

What happened in Israel with this film is beyond my imagination: people on both sides embrace this movie. The #1 film, this was Israel's selection for Oscar consideration, but awards are not as important as people seeing it.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.