Eye For Film >> Movies >> 200 Meters (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Israel's controversial West Bank barrier is physically at the centre of Ameen Nayfeh's feature debut but it's the emotional toll it takes on those who have to live and work around it that lies at the heart of his humanistic drama. Life, as they say, is complicated, especially for Mustafa (Ali Suliman) and his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik), with him living on the West Bank side of a checkpoint with his mother, while she lives with their three young children - Maryam, Noora and Majd - on the Israeli side. It's so close, just the 200m of the title, that Mustafa and his kids can play a nightly game with their lights - but we will come to learn that, in the wrong set of circumstances, they might as well be living on different sides of the world.
It's clear things aren't in a perfect place between Mustafa and Salwa largely due to Mustafa's refusal to apply for ID to live with the family that has led to the separation - this embedded stubbornness regarding the place called 'home' is an ongoing theme of the film. Despite the additional emotional divisions the opposite sides of the fence throws up between them, the family meet daily and Nayfeh does a good job of generating an easy warmth between in the domestic element of his drama. The largely relaxed home life is in sharp contrast to the stress of what amounts to Mustafa's 'daily commute' to his building job - in scenes that have a documentary quality that permeates much of the film, we see him joining the sea of foot traffic corralled and and making slow progress through the fenced queues of the checkpoints and where a piece of wrong admin can cost dearly.
When one day he is unable to go to cross legitimately, an urgent problem forces him to try to smuggle himself across. Nayfeh's film switches gear from the domestic at this point to a road movie of sorts - although the distance travelled is, as previously noted, ultimately quite short. Mustafa finds himself in a smuggler's van along with an assortment of other Palestinians, including eager teenager Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita) and, in the film's biggest contrivance, a German documentarian, Anne (Anna Unterberger) and her Palestinian boyfriend Kifah (Motaz Malhees).
Anne, as an outsider, is certainly helpful for the plot exposition but she does stretch the credibility of the film in places. Still, she allows for the examination of walls that are a lot less obvious than the physical barrier - with the wall used only sparingly but effectively at key moments. We see how antagonism towards her melts away when the group are told she has Palestinian heritage and this along with later plot developments show how perception as much as actuality can fuel division when people are under enough stress.
Although the shift in the film's gears isn't exactly smooth, it's an ambitious idea for a first-time filmmaker and Nayfeh brings home the sharp reality of the smuggling business - seen here trafficking people mainly for what might be consider benign economic or family reasons, such as jobs on the other side for which they are unable to get permits. The director allows the tensions to percolate as the situation, generally speaking, brings the sort of knee-jerk reactions that lead to more trouble, with cinematographer Elin Kirschfink adding an additional level of claustrophobia at the crucial moment. While the issue of Israeli settlers and even the checkpoints themselves is largely kept in the backdrop, Nayfeh's film quietly shows how this can add to the general sense of anxiety. Through it all, Ali Suliman brings a sweet earnestness to Mustafa that cuts through the more stubborn elements of his character. Nayfeh asks us to walk 200m in Mustafa's shoes - it proves to be a much longer and more complex journey than you might think.Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2020