BFI #LFF 200 METERS Film Review

Ali Suliman in 200 Meters (2020)

Despite some questionable plot devices, Ameen Nayfeh’s 200 METERS is a tense and emotional drama about the human implications of separation

3.5 out of 5 stars

Israel’s controversial West Bank barrier is at the centre of Ameen Nayfeh’s feature debut 200 METERS, a humanistic drama about a Palestinian father trapped on one side of the wall when a family emergency calls him to the other.

Every night, Mustafa (Ali Suliman) says goodnight to his children by flashlight, signalling across the 200 metres that keep them apart, on the other side of the Israeli-constructed West Bank wall. Work-related reasons, and Mustafa’s refusal to accept an Israeli identity card, prevent the family from living under the same roof, but when his son is taken to hospital, the distance that separates him from his family becomes a vast ocean.

The majority of Nayfeh’s feature debut is spent following Mustafa’s danger-filled journey to get across the border, the desperate father paying a group of smugglers to help him reach the Israeli side. Navfeh builds the tension well here, as the group face heavily-policed checkpoints, Palestinian hoodlums and, of course, their own fears. Elin Kirschfink’s impressive cinematography also adds an additional level of claustrophobia at the crucial moment.

But at its heart, 200 METERS is a story about the human implications of separation. It is here where’s Nayfeh’s tense and emotional drama comes into its own, the family scenes, in particular, amplifying the stress, as well as the intimacy, that bridges and divides Mustafa’s family.

Much of the film’s success lies in the capable hands of its leading man. Ali Suliman brings depth and complexity to the role of Mustafa, the father trying to do the right thing and be everywhere at the same time and his compassionate performance truly gives the film the warmth and heart it needs.

Yet, while the supporting cast also delivers impressive performances, the inclusion of a German documentarian, Anne (Anna Unterberger), who joins the group in the smuggler’s van, stretches the credibility of the film in places. Anne is practically a parody of the German tourist in Palestine, well-meaning but naive to a frustrating degree, and even though Nayfeh tries to develop the role by giving Anne an unexpected background, it feels too contrived and a little too convenient as a plot device.

That said, even when the script falters, Navfeh succeeds in bringing home the sharp reality of the smuggling business and the film’s lovely ending more than satisfies, playing on the tender family dynamics witnessed earlier.

200 METERS screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 October 2020.