Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ameen Nayfeh
Writer: Ameen Nayfeh
Cast: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Nabil Al Raee, Motaz Malhees, Mahmoud Abu Eita, Samia Bakri Qazmuz
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/14/21
Opens: May 19-27, 2021 at the Human Rights Festival Watch Film Festival
To get an idea of what it’s like to be separated from your family like the people in this film, unable to meet with them without putting up with humiliating hassles, think of this. Brooklyn joined the rest of New York City in 1898. Imagine that Brooklyn and Manhattan are now hostile to each other. The U.S. government makes people go through a bureaucratic maze if they want to directly cross the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan or to travel from Manhattan to Brooklyn. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you cannot sneak from your busy family’s Brooklyn apartment to visit your mistress in Manhattan. The good news is your in-laws from Manhattan may not visit you in Brooklyn. Similarly, in “200 Meters” Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot cross over into Israel proper without ID cards, regular permits and work permits. By controlling passages between Israel and the West bank, the Israeli government has succeeded in stopping at least 75% of the terror incidents that the country faced previously. What’s going down now, in mid-May 2021, shows how suppressed feelings over the hassles can boil over violently.
The title comes from the distance that Mustafa (Ali Suliman) lives from his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik). Mustafa lives with his mother in the West Bank near the city of Tulkarem (the writer-director’s birthplace) and Salwa lives with her kids in Israel. Why are they not living in the same house? Mustafa wants nothing to do with Israeli citizenship and refuses to hold an Israeli ID. Salwa wants her child to go to a Macabee Camp in Haifa under Jewish auspices, which infuriates her husband, while at the same the more practical Salwa does not understand why he cannot live with her in Israel. Thing is, Mustafa can see his wife’s apartment house from his window (just as Sarah Palin can see Russia from her Alaska digs). She can signal him with lights. She can talk on the phone with him. They simply have different politics.
If you think the tension between them can be a catalyst for an exciting movie, you’re on the shekels, because this is one of the best road trip films in years. “200 Meters” is a thriller which at the same time educates the moviegoing public about what it’s like to make a choice. Should you go the 200 meters through a busy, crowded checkpoint to cross the big wall that the Jewish state has erected separating the West Bank from Israel, or, if you are missing a permit, should you wait over the weekend to renew your permit? Or should you take a trip of several hours catered by smugglers who make money ferrying people via a back way? It is not that Mustafa refuses to go through the checkpoint. The problem is that his permit has expired, so he is determined to stay put until he renews it after the weekend. However, when his son Majd (Tawfeeq Nayfeh) is hit by a car and is in an Israeli hospital, Mustafa wants to get to Israel pronto. Thus the payment to smugglers and the long road trip with the possibility of being caught by Israeli soldiers and paying a stiff fine. On top of that, smuggler Nader (Nabil Al Raai), though receiving shekels worth $100 U.S. from Mustafa, takes his time, awaiting other passengers to make his job more lucrative.
A motley crew join Mustafa, including 17-year-old Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita), militant Palestinian Kifah (Motaz Malhees), and beautiful Anne (Anna Unterberger), who carries a large camera, identifying herself as a German filmmaker who wants her public to see what the Palestinians have to go through.
The story, filmed by Elin Kirschfink completely in the West Bank (I’m guessing) as there are no real-life Jewish Israelis who would be permitted to take part therein. I see only Arabic names in the cast list except for the blond pony-tailed Unterberger who speaks English and who comes close to being slugged by a fellow passenger when she speaks fluent Hebrew. The trip involves not just the chance of being busted by soldiers but also a fight with Palestinian thugs who declare that a wall encountered along the way is “our wall,” demanding additional tariffs.
Kudos to writer-director Armeen Nayfeh for his first full-length narrative film. Of course if he were in the cast, he would be the guy with the big camera rather than the German woman. He has a way with creating tension while enlightening us about traveling difficulties borne by Palestinians who want to work or visit in Israel. His characterizations are also nuanced: Mustafa, though refusing to take advantage of his right to an Israeli ID by marriage to an Israeli, never comes across as a hate-field, vituperative seeker of vengeance. It helps that his cast is led by Nazareth-born Ali Suliman, who trained at the Acting School in Tel Aviv and who you may have seen in eight TV episodes of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”
96 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-