Writer and Director: Ameen Nayfeh

Dividing countries with a wall may be a populist political strategy for countries worried about immigration but it is the families and workers who must travel to both sides every day that pay a significant human cost. Ameen Nayfeh’s new film 200 Meters is about a family divided between the West Bank and Israel, a journey-film in which a group of strangers, each with their own agenda, must undertake an illegal road trip to the other side of the wall.

Mustafa lives on the West Bank 200 metres from the wall that divides him from the house his wife shares with their children in Israel. Refusing the Israeli ID that allows his family to travel freely, Mustafa obtains a work permit to travel across each day but expired paperwork leaves him with no way of crossing the divide when his son is rushed to hospital and Mustafa sets out on a difficult journey.

Nayfeh’s film evolves from a complex family drama about a decent and loving father conflicted by his political loyalties and the practicalities of supporting his divided family into a gripping against-the-odds struggle. And while the increasingly perilous trip has moments of high drama as they reach the crucial checkpoints, there is also plenty of heart in Mustafa’s desperation to get to his unwell son and the bonds he reluctantly forms with his fellow travellers.

Like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, the wall itself features in the final act as the remaining group must finally contemplate the structure that divides them as they discover whether their extended journey has been worth it, the consequence of which play out in the final 15-minutes. It also becomes a metaphor for Mustafa’s state of mind, a physical and metaphorical barrier that he must overcome to be with his family again.

It has already been an interesting festival for exploring paternal figures and like Farewell Amor and Eyimofe (This is My Desire), 200 Meters also has a gentle and family-focused leading man. Ali Suliman brings deep psychological insight to his role as Mustafa making sense of the character’s responses as the scenario changes around him. He is at once a doting parent playing with the children who both adore and respect him, while also exuding a low-level resentment occasionally directed at his wife (Lana Zreik) as their complicated separation overloads him at the start of the film.

Later, when this father’s only purpose is to get to his son’s bedside as quickly as possible, the practical, frustrated and humanitarian sides of Mustafa are revealed in turn by Suliman who imbues his character’s point of view with empathy even when behaving badly. That he seems to learn so much about what really matters is down to Nayfeh’s writing combined with Suliman’s engaging performance in which the audience wills his success.

The surrounding cast relies primarily on archetypes, although imagined from Mustafa’s perspective this is understandable. There are greedy smugglers led by Nabil Al Raai’s Nader who cares little for the individual dramas, just cash in exchange for risk, and a mixed group of passengers including a young football fan with whom Mustafa eventually bonds played by Mahmoud Abu Eita, a filmmaker from Germany trying to understand her relatives (Anna Unterberger) and her Palestinian boyfriend (Motaz Malhees).

Nayfeh employs some interesting techniques including a panic-fuelled and claustrophobic section as the men hide in the trunk of a car, while Elin Kirschfink’s cinematography of the beautiful sun-filled landscape contrasts well with the metallic intensity of the daily wall crossing. 200 Meters never diminishes the political implications of living with a wall, but it is the family story that gives the film is meaning.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

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