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Omar Killed Me (Omar m’a tuer)

Film Three Stars
Omar Killed Me intrigued me as I'm a big fan of European thrillers, in particular French thrillers, and what caught my eye in particular about this story was that it was based on actual events and the investigation of a murder of a wealthy French widow in 1991 who apparently left a single clue to the murder, "Omar Killed Me" written in her own blood. Omar was her gardener, a young man from Morocco who spoke little French and considered the woman his second mother.

However the police and courts pressed forward with the obvious single clue despite questionable and contradictory evidence. Apparently the case raised the profile of the prejudice and racism within France, shocking many and splitting public opinion, was Omar guilty or not?

The blurb alone caught me and with it being sold as a courtroom drama I was definitely going to see this.

Plot.pngOmarKilledMe.jpgIn June 1991 the wealthy widow Ghislaine Marchal was found beaten to death in the basement of her villa in the South of France. There was no forensic evidence, no witnesses and just one clue written in the victim's blood; "Omar has kill me". Omar referred to her Moroccan gardener, a young man who knew little French and denied doing anything wrong; in fact he viewed the woman as close as he did his mother.

However this and the concerns over the evidence in the case were thrown to the side as the need for someone to blame, the race for a conviction, and prejudice of both a class and racial nature came to the fore driven forward through the large amount of media attention which was focussed on the events.

The film follows the events of the court case and mixes the fictional with reality as it brings forward an investigative journalist to examine the case fastidiously, looking into the alibi, the details of the murder scene and the unusual message scrawled in blood.

TheFilm.pngI found the film a little difficult to get into initially but this wasn't a fault of the film itself it was the projection at the Glasgow Film Festival which was unusually off. We seemed to be losing a fair amount of the top part of the screen and it had the effect of chopping people's heads off making the framing of close-ups feel rather odd. Unfortunately I just couldn't stop noticing it, much as I tried to ignore it and get used to it. However a little later on it did seem to improve enough to make the framing acceptable, or perhaps I just did get used to it!

Still there was another picture issue that affected the film for me and those were the subtitles which were white and often appeared on a light and sometimes even white background at which time it proved rather difficult to read. Again though, it wasn't enough to ruin the film or to lose track of what is being said by the characters.

Omar Killed Me is a powerful story that plays well and is all the more powerful for it being based on actual events. When I say based on actual events it seems as though the plot threads concerning the investigative journalist don't appear to be true and are there to aid the story development however those involving the murder and the wrongful imprisonment of Omar Raddad are all true.

The film is not however a courtroom drama and it feels a much wider thriller than that as it not only looks to the events of the courtroom and the defence lawyer Maitre Verges, but also leaps to events in prison and the work of the investigative journalist Pierre-Emmanuel Vaugrenard and his assistant to find out the truth of the story. There are a number of threads and time lines to deal with but you never lose track of where you are or where the story is, and that's a strong nod to both the writing and the editing of the film.

However there is a problem I found with the film and that's the fact that I didn't really get caught up with it. It didn't get my heart and my mind racing, and for me that's the most important part of a thriller. I feel like it's down to the fact that the film tells the story of Omar rather linearly and didn't concentrate on the part of the film that could provide the strongest thriller, the investigation of the past crime by the investigative journalist. This is a plot device that is a common one in courtroom and criminal thrillers, using the investigation of the crime to piece together the events and flashback to the past, and it works really well.

What I don't understand is why it wasn't used here and the investigation used to deliver a much stronger storytelling and thriller experience, instead this part of the film feels rather weak and delivers scenes that explain some of the technicalities of why the case against Omar doesn't add up. It works, but it's clinical.

This could have been so much more and really powered the film forward, and as it stands these explanations of the injustices and flaws of the case which should appear as gaping holes and moments of revelations instead feel rather lacklustre and appear more as matter of fact statements.

The other area I felt the film fell down a little was in the reveal of how much these events and the story affected France and how it was viewed by the French people, or perhaps better described as how it was presented to the French people through the media. After reading more about the story for the review I realised that the real life events had a big impact on France and brought out prejudices and negativity raising a swell of opinion that demanded quick justice no matter the price. I didn't get the scale of this through the film and I think it would have been much more effective if we could have felt and understood how much it affected France at the time to see how important Omar's story became.

That said the film is directed well and carries a good pace, and although the balance of the acts could have been better and weighted more towards the thriller, it still delivers a good dramatic film.

Sami Bouajila, who you may recognise from a number of films from France to Hollywood, plays the lead role of Omar and he's utterly convincing in the role. There are some key scenes where he shines through and watching his confusion while he's being interrogated, filled with suspicion and fear is just the beginning. You really do connect with the character and feel for him throughout the film, particularly during interrogation and court scenes.

Overall.pngIt is worth saying up front that Omar Killed Me is a strong dramatic film that tells a true and harrowing story of wrongful accusation, imprisonment and a clearly prejudiced system. It's a surprising story especially when you begin to hear the facts behind the case, however the film plays out more like a dramatic documentary than a thriller, and I do wish that there had been a little more thriller to it, and I think that's where the film is let down a little.

There are a number of strong actors in the film but Sami Bouajila steals the limelight with his leading role performance which is engaging and very convincing.

Overall Omar Killed Me is a strong film but could have been an even stronger thriller. If you're a fan of French crime drama then this is definitely one for you.

More on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012 on Filmstalker
More on other Festivals on Filmstalker
Edinburgh International Film Festival Official Site
UK IMDB Film Details



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