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LFF 2020 Review: 200 Meters – “The pace of the film rarely lets up”

Director Ameed Nayfeh’s feature-length debut, 200 Meters tells the story of Mustafa (Ali Suliman), a Palestinian family man who lives apart from his wife and children, separated by the Israeli West Bank wall. Each night they stand on their respective balconies, signalling goodnight across the 200-meter expanse that separates them. Mustafa spends his days looking for work, having to pass through the dehumanizing, militarized fortified crossing points. Bureaucracy conspires against him when he learns his son has been involved in an accident. Looking to find a way back to see his son in hospital, Mustafa embarks on a dangerous journey as he encounters others also looking to make the crossing while evading the Israeli authorities.

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The tensions and dynamic within Mustafa’s family are intriguing and complex within their own right and in many ways, there was the potential for just as interesting a film, had the narrative remained just with them. But once Mustafa makes the decision to travel at any cost to see his son, the film essentially becomes a road movie, where he encounters a young man searching for work, a man travelling to a wedding accompanied by a German woman filming his journey and men who smuggle people across the wall for a living. The pace of the film rarely lets up and the tension mounts both for the viewer and the travellers as they journey closer and closer to the checkpoint. Tempers inevitably become frayed and prejudices within the group become apparent.

This tension is used to great effect to discuss the Israeli / Palestinian troubles. The script, also by the director Ameen Nayfeh, does an excellent job of examining this difficult and dehumanizing situation without ever forcing one particular viewpoint or becoming didactic in his approach. Nor are there periods of debate that detract from Mustafa’s immediate and most pressing concern, his family. The region’s difficulties and tensions are viewed from a realistic and everyday perspective. We are able to appreciate what it is like living in such a fractured region and how people cope with it as part of their lives.

The supporting cast performs admirably, with Anna Unterberger standing out in her role as Anne, the German filmmaker documenting her boyfriend’s journey to a family wedding. But the star of the film is just that. Ali Suliman, who may be familiar to viewers of the recent Amazon show Jack Ryan. He superbly balances the desperation of a father battling to see his seriously injured son with that of someone for whom self-respect, dignity and consideration of others are defining characteristics. It would be easy for his performance to descend into a study of pushing, running and shouting, but Suliman for the most part, holds back and in doing so maintains the beating heart of the film. The constant drive is the importance of family and how national and cultural differences pale into insignificance when compared to these considerations.

200 Meters is a story set within a region whose problems, unfortunately, echo and ring true wherever you may live. The themes of deep-rooted, multi-generational prejudice and racial hatred are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago and longer. It is a film that does well to balance an intimate family drama against a backdrop of racial and cultural division that is all too familiar around the world.

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