Ameen Nayfeh’s feature length debut 200 Meters centres around the controversial West Bank barrier which separates Israel and Palestine. Officially part-wall, part-fence, this imposing structure is the subject of many debates around the world. Its supporters claim its a necessary deterrent against terrorism, whilst those opposing it argue its an unnecessary and unethical form of segregation. The West Bank barrier is undoubtedly a large-scale issue, but Nayfeh chooses to illustrate the challenges it presents on an intimate level by telling the story of Palestinian father Mustafa. He is separated from his wife and children, as he lives with his mother on the Palestine side and they live on the Israeli side, 200 meters away.
Mustafa’s wife Salwa (Lana Zreik) is frustrated by her husband’s refusal to apply for ID which would enable him to live with them on the other side of the barrier. This creates an emotional division between the couple as well as the physical one, proving the struggles that forced separation can create. Despite this, Mustafa cares deeply for his family and finds ways to show his love despite not living under the same roof. We see heartwarming scenes of regular phone calls, and we soon learn they can actually see each other’s homes across the barrier. Nightly rituals of light signals on their balconies create a strange sense of normality for this family. He is also able to see his family during the day, as Mustafa can legally cross over to Israel to work, but must return home to the other side of the barrier. This set-up, though complicated, seems to work for the family in the immediate term. It’s not long before real tension arrives, however, when Mustafa and Salwa’s son Majd gets into an accident and has to undergo surgery. But Mustafa realises his work permit has expired and he’s unable to legitimately cross the barrier to be with his son.
200 Meters is documentary-like in its nature, with a raw filmmaking technique reminding us that this is very much a real and ongoing issue affecting many people. This barrier and its complications is difficult to get your head around at times, and the film is a fascinating glimpse into life on both sides. The performances throughout are incredibly convincing, and often bring tender and heartwarming moments, as well as ones full of frustration and rage. Despite the ongoing stresses the border presents, the friendships and familial relationships we see along the way provides insight into Mustafa and who he is as a person.
Mustafa is not alone in his attempts to be smuggled across the border, as he meets German documentary filmmaker Anne (Anna Unterberger) who is crossing over to video a family wedding with her Palestinian boyfriend Kifah (Motaz Malhees). Anne is a very interesting character as both Mustafa and us as an audience need to figure out if she can really be trusted. It’s a difficult position to find yourself in, but when you’re in a situation as desperate as Mustafa’s, it’s every man for himself. It’s an uncomfortable film in places, as there are claustrophobic scenes where we’re crammed into tight spaces and hoping things go according to plan. Heavy breathing, close ups, and dark spaces force us to get closer to the characters and feel what they’re feeling.
The film does have its flaws and the pacing wasn’t quite as tight as it could’ve been, but overall, it’s a really eye-opening look at what it means to live either side of the barrier, and explores complex themes such as identity, family and the idea of ‘home’. 200 Meters is also very educational, especially for those who may not be familiar with the West Bank barrier and the political climate affecting Palestine and Israel. Whilst it could never paint a full picture, it certainly provides some necessary context. It’s an impressive feature-length debut from Ameen Nayfeh, who has already told this story at Venice before bringing it here to London Film Festival. I look forward to seeing more in future.