200 Meters (2020)
Review by Owen Hsieh
Mustafa is a casual construction labourer with a bad back, he lives in the West Bank. In the main he lives apart from his wife Salwa and their children, separated by a wall. Due to his intransigence he refuses to get a residency permit from the state of Israel.
Unable to live with his immediate family, instead he puts up with the hassle and indignity of obtaining temporary work visas to commute through the border checkpoint to go to work and visit loved ones. This is all well and good until his work visa expires and his travel is restricted.
Double tragedy strikes: unable to get to site, he is laid off from work. And he receives the news that his son has been hospitalised. Desperate to reunite with his family at a critical juncture, he pays smugglers to traffic him across the wall. This illegal crossing is not without risk and in transit the occupants learn a great deal about one another.
200 meters is a remarkable piece of social realism, there is not a shot or sequence wasted in the film. It is alternately gripping, tense, and highly emotionally charged. It displays an obvious sympathy for the oppressed, while not simply taking the easy route by caricaturing and demonising the oppressors.
The actors involved in the film are all very skilled and committed to the project. It felt as if Ali Suliman as the lead actor was destined all his life to play this role, he was very believable.
Filmed at actual border crossings and checkpoints where Palestinian workers cross beneath watch towers, it is a work of great sophistication, as such this reviewer finds it easy to enthuse over it.
200 meters is the brainchild of writer and director Ameen Nayfeh, himself a resident of West Bank, born in Tulkarm in 1988. Seven years in production, 200 meters is the third film from this young director who has previously made films on very similar themes with The Crossing in 2017 and The Eid Gift in 2012. He is a director of unusual sensitivity and intelligence to be able to write and produce such a magnificent piece of social realism. A short interview with Nayfeh is available at Cineuropa.
Nayfeh was able to draw on his own reserve of experience in navigating the circuitous border crossing:
‘It’s a personal story. I personally did the journey crossing the wall many times, to visit my family, and my friends and family have crossed many times. So I have my personal experience, and a lot of stories that I know. And of course I did my research, on the smuggling, how is it done, what are different types.’
To highlight the plight of the Palestinians, rather than make a documentary Nayfeh chose to make a dramatic film incorporating the real situation Palestinians in the West Bank face:
“Everything in the film is based on real life situations, its not fiction.”
“I sought to make a film for an international audience”.
“I wanted to tell a film that reflects the social situation, and the political situation, but also entertaining and a good film to watch.”
Since the initial occupations following the 1967 Arab Israeli six day war, after Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Israeli state has continually sought to aggressively make further inroads to diminish the already marginal tracts land held by the Palestinian Authority by official land grabs and annexations. Leading to the situation where the West Bank is split up into 165 territorial ‘islands’.
This witches brew of nationalistic Israeli policy has led to the growth of extreme right wing, reactionary forces in the country, legitimising the presence of ultra-orthodox, militant Zionist Jewish settlers who are for all intents and purposes religious fundamentalists.
Counterpoised to all this, 200 Meters is all the more special. In Nayfeh’s words,
“The people I would wish to watch the movie who are interested in the Palestinian case, I would really want that Israeli people watch the film, a lot of them don’t know, many of them do not really understand how this situation is affecting families, we don’t cross in our daily life, Israeli people are in their own bubble, and we are in own reality. We don’t know much about [each other’s] daily life even though we are just a few minutes apart, its an important film to show to the other side.”