August 1, 2021

a road movie hampered by a wall and checkpoints


The title of the first feature film by Palestinian director Ameen Nayfeh refers to the distance that separates Mustafa (Ali Suliman) from his family. Almost nothing as the crow flies; in reality, an almost impassable distance. 200 meters designates the subject of the film. Because we are in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, located on one side of the wall built by the Israelis during the second Intifada (2000-2006). Mustafa lives there. On the other side: the Israeli town of Hadera, where his wife, Salwa (Lana Zreik), their son and two daughters reside.

At nightfall, from the respective terraces of their apartments – each of which overlooks the high concrete barrier – they send light signals to each other, wishing each other good night on the phone. During the day, as soon as she is not working and the children have left school, Salwa makes the long journey to join her husband. For the latter – who refuses to take Israeli nationality, as his wife did – getting to Hadera is an obstacle course. Only the contracts that he manages to land, piecemeal, on construction sites make his job easier.

These moments of rare family reunions, torn away at the cost of new constraints, accommodations and repeated efforts, bring a little sparkle, ephemeral happiness to the first sequences of the film. Until the moment when an event deprives it definitively, causing it to switch to a completely different genre. Mustafa, learning that his son has just been hospitalized after a serious accident, must set out on the journey to Israel. Without a work permit, and with a magnetic card that is no longer valid, he has little choice: the passage will have to be done illegally, with the help of smugglers, for a fee.

Irrational situations

It is then that two hundred meters become one hundred kilometers; every minute, an eternity; each control at the checkpoints, an anguish. And the social chronicle, a singular, oppressive road movie, contrary to the spirit of freedom that usually accompanies it. Here, the crossing is supervised, the road marked out, sometimes obstructed, on each side, by the wall. No more landscape then, no travelers, but a prison and passengers taken hostage. Among them, Rami (Mahmoud Abu Eita), 18, whose hope is to find work in Israel; a German documentary filmmaker, Anne (Anna Unterberger), and with her, a young Palestinian man, Kifah (Motaz Malhees), who goes to his cousin’s wedding.

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