DIRECTED BY: Ameen Nayfeh
STARRING: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Nabil Al Raee, Motaz Malhees, Mahmoud Abu Eita, Samia Bakri Qazmuz, Rebecca Esmeralda Telhemi and Ghassan Ashkar
Mustafa and his wife Salwa come from two Palestinian villages that are only two-hundred meters apart, but are separated by the wall. Their unusual living situation is starting to affect their otherwise happy marriage, but the couple does what they can to make it work, as every night, Mustafa flashes the light from his balcony to wish his children on the other side good night, and they signal him back. One day Mustafa gets a call that his son has been in an accident and is in hospital. Having been denied entry the previous day at a checkpoint, Mustafa resorts to hiring a smuggler to bring him across and gain entry to get to the hospital, with his once 200 meter journey now becoming a 200km odyssey, joined by other travellers determined to cross.
200 Meters is written and directed by Ameen Nayfeh, marking his directorial feature debut, focusing on a drama that’s set around the West Bank barrier between Israel and Palestine. We follow Mustafa, whose living at home in Palestine with his mother, while his wife Salwa and their two children live in Israel, 200 meters away, separated by the West Bank barrier. They are so close that during their nightly phone calls, Mustafa flicks the lights from the balcony on and off, with the children responding in kind from their room as both can see the other. While the initial arrangement of them being separated, even by the barrier, works as Mustafa can legally cross into Israel during the day to work and spend time with his family, once he gets the call that his son has had an accident and is in hospital, his expired work visa means that Mustafa will need to be smuggled through to the other side in order to get there.
It cannot be underestimated the controversy surrounding the West Bank barrier that separates Israel and Palestine, I initially wondered what direction Nayfeh was going to take us in with this story. While the news will show you the tragic loss of the conflict, Nayfeh tells us a more intimate story of how the West Bank barrier, this symbol of being a barrier against terrorism and/or a apartheid wall (pending on who you ask), has separated loved ones and showcases their daily attempts to cross the border between them in order to be together. We’re giving the setup of how Mustafa, Salwa and the children manage to maintain a family dynamic, even if they’re separated by a wall, though we see Salwa being frustrated for Mustafa for refusing to apply for an Israeli passport that would permit him to live with them on the other side of the other side of the barrier. It appears a simple request, especially when Mustafa is questioned about why he wouldn’t apply for one instead of being smuggled through the other side, but for him obtaining such a passport would diminish his identity. While the focus of the film is Mustafa’s journey through the West Bank barrier to get to the hospital, the film is not shy on supporting characters as well as highlighting the sense of paranoia and claustrophobia that comes with the smuggling, the constant car and driver changes, hiding within the confines of a boot, with these scenes being effective and well directed by Nayfeh, complimented by Elin Kirschfink’s cinematography. Ali Suliman gives an excellent performance as Mustafa, a man who just wants to get to where he needs to be as quickly as possible, doing his best to distance himself from the rest of the group looking to get smuggled, but soon gets caught up in their topics of discussion and we see the complexities of Mustafa’s character. Another member of the ensemble that gives a really good performance is Anna Unterberger as Anne, a German filmmaker that is attending a family wedding with her Palestinian boyfriend Kifah, but is also looking to film the journey through the border. Anne’s motives are explained but that doesn’t stop the remaining travels from being skeptical, with some believing that only interested in showing everyone back home the misery and tragedy that they’d stereotypically expect about them.
While the film has a lot of milage in its narrative, it does slightly falter in the final act, particularly in how one sequence goes abruptly from one location to the next. Pretty much the idea of the geography of this film might throw some viewers off, though I believe when it came to the smuggling aspect that was kind of the point, to create the sense of unease, tension and paranoia that the characters feel.
200 Meters is an impressive feature debut from Ameen Nayfeh, highlighting for audiences unaware of the complexities of the political climate between Palestine and Israel, as well as looking deeply at the themes of identity and home. Ali Suliman gives an understated, compelling performance.