CHENNAI: Divisive politics can be painful for families caught in the crosshairs and this is precisely the scenario that first-time writer-director Ameen Nayfeh creates in “200 Meters.”
The movie was screened at last year’s Venice Film Festival before becoming Jordan’s offering for the Oscars in the international category.
Although the film did not make the Oscars’ shortlist, which was announced on Tuesday, it does tell a story worth watching.
Nayfeh focuses on a husband, his mother, wife, and three children who are riddled with angst at having to live apart, despite being separated by a mere 200 meters. While the man and his mother live in occupied territory, his wife and children live on the other side of the Israeli barrier wall.
What makes this so terrible is that they can see each other from their respective houses that overlook the barrier. At night, the wife and children stand on their terrace, flashing their torchlights while speaking to the man. It is portrayed as comical in some ways but is laced with painful longing.
Mustafa (Ali Suliman) is married to Salwa (Lana Zreik), who holds an Israeli passport. He can stay with his wife in Israel, but he is not willing to follow rules which he considers illegitimate and so he crosses the border every day to work and see his family.
One day, Mustafa is stopped by a border guard who tells him that his work permit has expired, and he cannot enter Israel. Since he needs the job, he approaches a people smuggler who demands an enormous amount of money, but events are set into motion when Mustafa receives a call that his son has been hospitalized, prompting him to throw caution to the wind and hop into the smuggler’s van.
A motley group of fellow passengers travel along with Mustafa, and the film turns into a sort of twisted road-trip movie. With him is the younger Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita), activist Kifah (Motaz Malhees), and German photographer Anne (Anna Unterberger), who appears maddeningly oblivious to the situation at hand to an almost unbelievable degree.
The film follows the group’s fraught journey to get across the border, with the knowledge that his son is in hospital ramping up the tension as Mustafa faces Israeli security, Palestinian thugs, and personal fear.
There is no dramatic curve to offer surprises, and even when one of the van’s passengers holds a conversation with an Israeli female soldier at a checkpoint, it appears flat — a missed opportunity for some real tension.
What somewhat lifts the movie is Suliman, who does bring a fair amount of complexity to his character, exuding affection, warmth, and anxiety.