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Abu-Assad has made not one, but two Oscar-nominated films.
JERUSALEM — Ever wonder what it feels like to be nominated for an Oscar — not once, but twice?
It feels pretty damn good, according to Hany Abu-Assad, the director of the movie Omar, who is in exactly that position.
"It's a funny thing," he said, in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he is preparing for the ceremony. "It's exactly like the first time you make love. The first time you don't really know what you are doing and you feel some responsibility, but the second time you know what's coming, and you get more joy in making love."
"Few people have been nominated twice," he added, "So it is quite an honor."
Hany Abu-Assad, who holds Israeli and Dutch citizenship, is the only Palestinian ever nominated for an Oscar — first for his 2005 film Paradise Now and now for Omar, which was released in 2013, both in the category of Best Foreign Film.
Omar has already won the "Un Certain Regard" special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Paradise Now followed two young Palestinian men as they prepare for a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. Omar tells the arc of another young Palestinian man, the almost impossibly noble Omar, (played by the almost impossibly handsome Adam Bakri) caught in a treacherous and very sticky web of nationalism, desire, and self-discovery. The humanity of suicide bombers isn't a topic most directors would touch, but in both films, Abu-Assad tackles tough topics with a surprisingly delicate hand.
Much has been made of the fact that an Israeli film also released last year, Bethlehem, tells a similar story, both films portraying an Israeli secret service handler and his Palestinian informant.
Abu-Assad saw Bethlehem. "It is good to see the matter from an Israeli point of view, even though politically we are not on the same page,” he said. “But films are about the quality of the movie. This is how you learn about others. The acting was great and I appreciate it because it is well done."
The films actually differ in most respects. Non-actors act in Bethlehem, giving it a gritty, hard-knuckle realism, whereas experienced professionals grace the screen in Omar. But they both touch on eerily similar themes of the corrosive effects of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas. The two films also come to almost identically explosive ends.
So it is rather shocking to hear, in a GlobalPost exclusive, that Abu-Assad's next film will be a romantic comedy.
"Yes, it's not a joke," Abu-Assad laughs, enjoying the surprise. "Set in Nazareth, where I was born."
A romcom set in Nazareth: now there’s a thought to give the local archbishop agita.
But it turns out Abu-Assad’s project is a Romeo and Juliet story involving a poor boy and a girl with a rich father. "I call them the new generation," Abu-Assad explains, "more interested in themselves than in others. But the most important obstacle in the way of any love story is our inability to understand the other."
"I like movies that keep a space in which the audience can think, and not to give them all the answers. I like movies that open questions, and I try to do what I like. I want you to be engaged and be part of the story and I want to manipulate your emotions — but not your thinking. I want it to be your thinking."