Oslo movie review: HBO’s topical dramatisation of Israel-Palestine peace talks is an impressive human drama


Oslo cast: Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson, Salim Daw, Jeff Wilbusch, Yair Hirschfeld, and Igal Naor
Oslo director: Bartlett Sher
Oslo rating: 4 stars

Oslo is a drama based on American playwright JT Rogers’ play of the same name. It recounts the back-channel negotiations preceding the the first of Oslo Accords and their immediate aftermath. For those who are unaware, Oslo Accords were two agreements between Israel and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), which professed to represent the Palestinian people.

The accords were only one among many attempts to — if not finally solve the long-festering conflict between Israel and Palestine — begin conversation between the leaders that will eventually lead to that outcome.

The accords were facilitated by a Norwegian couple, Mona Juul, a diplomat played by Ruth Wilson, and Terje Rød-Larsen, the director of think tank Fafo Foundation, played by Andrew Scott, and the events are shown through their perspective.

First off, the film is not what you would usually expect from something that dramatises agreements between people who have been bitter enemies for more than seven decades. That is to say, the film’s scope is relatively small. It is an intimate drama focusing on those who were involved in the talks that resulted in the signing of the accord.

Certainly, there are mentions of the fate of millions of people and how it affects the region, but the plot is mostly how a bunch of people, holding views that are polar opposite to each other, met, talked, and tried to find common ground.

In what it sets out to achieve, Oslo succeeds for the most part. It assumes you already know quite a bit about the conflict and the unimaginable physical and mental toll it has taken on the affected people. If you want an explainer, look elsewhere.
Salim Daw and Dov Glickman in Oslo. (Photo: HBO)
It tells us the solution for any issue begins with starting a dialogue. Conversation, even if it is a long-drawn-out process, is the only way forward, particularly when it comes to knotty international issues like this.

In the first act of the movie, a Jewish professor meets a PLO leader, and each one is surprised to see that the other person is not the monster they thought he would be.

Each major character in Oslo is written with a warmth and sensitivity, rarely seen in movies on diplomatic matters. This scribe is aware that the characterisation in this film does not always depicts the actual people, but it hardly matters. For Oslo is a drama, and not a documentary.

The performances are great, and go a long way in bringing the characters to life and making them feel like real, three-dimensional people. Andrew Scott is probably the best of the lot, giving an understated, nuanced performance. One can’t help but sympathise with his outbursts and exasperation, especially in situations where he expresses frustration at the stubbornness to cede ground and compromise on both sides. Ruth Wilson, Salim Daw, Jeff Wilbusch, Yair Hirschfeld, and Igal Naor are all great.

Oslo is not a great political film. It is, however, an outstanding human drama about people from two hostile communities gathering the courage to come together and talk. Oslo Accords were not successful and did not bring peace to the region — not for long anyway. But these agreements proved to the world that there was a fix to the issue, but it is always up to the stakeholders to take a step forward.

Oslo is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar Premium.

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