There’s a moment of reason that’s become rare in either movies or in life these days that occurs halfway through “200 Meters,” well into Mustafa’s attempt to sneak back into the West Bank, coming to realize he got what he paid for with a 250 shekel ride from a smuggler who insists on getting other passengers to justify the trouble of crossing the border. Mustafa (Ali Suliman) is in a hurry, having learned his son is in the hospital in Hadera while he remains in Palestine without the proper paperwork to cross, and after pulling in some new business for the driver in the form of Kifeh (Motaz Malhees), a fellow Palestinian, and his German girlfriend Anne (Anna Unterberger), who is interested in capturing the sights as a filmmaker, he believes the car should be moving a little faster, leading to a fight during a break in which Mustafa threatens to walk off miles away from the border until another passenger intervenes, calming things down by asking both the driver and Mustafa what they’d gain from parting ways now.
It’s a sensibility that runs throughout Ameen Nayfeh’s lovely and surprisingly taut drama, which initially finds Mustafa in a real bind before he ever hits the highway. Resistant to applying for an ID that would allow him to live in Israel full-time with his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik), he stubbornly passes through the West Bank checkpoint on a daily basis to work and see his family, returning in the evening to say good night to his three kids by flashing the lights on his porch from just across the wall. While the film leaves little doubt that the physical barriers have become an issue for the family, the writer/director recognizes how they’re all man-made when Mustafa, seemingly moderate-minded about his cultural identity, is unable to cede his nationality when it would improve his family’s lives collectively, a refusal to compromise that often appears to sneak up time and again on the characters in “200 Meters” when they least expect it.
The film itself has a few surprises up its sleeve, a little more of a thriller than you might expect from its opening scenes and a little more nuanced dramatically once it starts ratcheting up the tension the closer Mustafa’s rideshare gets to the border. Nayfeh has a great feel for how real people would react in such an intense situation and listening becomes a real superpower, not only in Mustafa’s ability to understand Hebrew and speak to Israeli authorities when necessary to cover up the group’s use of Arabic, but in hearing others’ out to forge a connection. Suliman naturally draws you in with his warmth as Mustafa, but “200 Meters” broadens out its appeal by investing generously in the supporting characters who take the ride along with him, exposing the subtle ways in which the walls have shaped their lives and perspectives. In a film where ideas of distance are relative, Nayfeh beautifully closes the gap geographically and emotionally to understand what barriers need to be brought down.
“200 Meters” will screen at Venice Days on September 9th at 3 pm at Cinema Rossini and September 12th at 7:30 pm at Sala Astra 1 and 7:45 pm at Sala Astra 2.