“We seek adventure because the situation is bad. We live in big birson… prison.”
A searing tale of family and identity, Ameen Nayfeh’s border-crossing road-trip drama ‘200 Meters‘ follows Palestinian father Mustafa (Ali Suliman), a man who lives in Palestine, but works each day over the border in Israel, where his wife and children live. Mustafa doesn’t want to sacrifice his Palestinian identity for the sake of an Israeli passport, which he could easily gain access to given that his wife & children have acquired Israeli citizenship, so he settles for a work permit in order to both see them and provide for them.
Most nights, he returns home, and switches the lights on and off to signal to his family’s home (literally) 200 meters away, over the Separation Wall that exists along the West Bank. However, Mustafa’s desire to retain his Palestinian identity clashes with his love and devotion to his family when his son is taken to hospital and his work permit expires, leading him to adopt a daring attempt to cross the border.
This may all seem complicated for a film to convey in the first 20 minutes. However, 200 Meters succeeds in immersing the audience into this world. This exposition comes with ease and the complexities are merely the day-to-day life for many who live along the Israel-Palestine border. Nayfeh has stressed that he “doesn’t want people to look at Palestinians as victims”, and whilst the film is certainly not a political exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s hard to cast your eye away from a struggle so far removed from our daily lives in the western world.
Though this world is not always so far away; in a touching scene, Mustafa discusses his son’s love of Liverpool FC as his travelling companion re-enacts one of Mo Salah’s many, many goals. The bond between these travellers is remarkably moving, grounded, and genuinely sweet, despite their arguments and the situation they’re in. However, it is the aforementioned conflict of identity that eventually drives them apart. Mustafa and Anne’s (Anna Unterberger) confessions outside the hospital are perhaps the film’s most affecting scenes, one that really hammers home the chaos of both maintaining these multiple identities and constructing endless lies in order to survive.
While character drama really drives the story, there’s no lack of action. The multiple border crossing scenes feel more tense and claustrophobic than many other features covering similar situations, with tight camera angles and stress-inducing performances from the cast really aiding the terror of each crossing. This in turn also highlights the somewhat surrealist viewing experience; Mustafa isn’t trying to infiltrate the Israeli government, or smuggle a truckload of Palestinians across the border, he is simply a father trying to see his son. The simplest, easiest act – to be by your child’s hospital bedside – is a luxury not everyone can afford.
The resolution suggests that Mustafa is still unwilling to sacrifice his identity as a Palestinian, still turning on the lights from 200 meters over the wall away from his family. But this is not a reflection of a lack of love for them, rather the opposite: he would go through that hell again countless times just to be with them, without sacrificing his identity.
Featuring stellar performances from the whole cast, and an unfortunately relevant topic, 200 Meters is a beautifully realised story of the importance of identity and family, being both specific to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and widely accessible and relatable. Ameen Nayfeh’s latest film is essential viewing.
Words by James Nash
Other reviews from the London Film Festival can be found here.