Palestinian father takes long way home in 200 Meters

By Michael Fox, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

It boggles the mind that fiction films that humanize Palestinians are still controversial in some circles.

Or perhaps not, because those who see and define them solely and simply as enemies of Israel are rattled by any depiction of Palestinians as human beings.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine Ameen Nayfeh’s heartfelt debut feature riling even the most ardent American Jewish supporters of Israel. The neo-realist tale of a dedicated West Bank father and husband determined to circumvent the labyrinth of checkpoints and permits to visit his son in a Jerusalem hospital, 200 Meters devotes more attention to Palestinian family life than to the occupation.

Of course, by virtue of its setting, 200 Meters is inevitably a political film. But its core concerns are personal, not polemical.

200 Meters, which was Jordan’s official entry for the 2021 Academy Award for Best International Film and received the Human Rights Jury Prize at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, screens with Dayton’s JCC Film Festival June 21.

Mustafa (Ali Suliman) and Salwa (Lana Zreik) are happily married with three children, but have separate homes in their respective West Bank villages. Salwa was born and lives on the Israeli side of the wall, but Mustafa — a go along/get along kind of guy who never evinces a political identity otherwise —won’t apply for Israeli citizenship.

He sees his family in person after each day’s labor at an Israeli construction site, and every night from his roof. In an absurdist bedtime ritual, they all flick their respective lights on and off while saying good night via cellphone.

The first half-hour of 200 Meters presents Salwa and Mustafa’s warm-hearted domestic drama as a love story that’s complicated, like many marriages, by long working hours, child-raising concerns, and scarce opportunities for intimacy.

Mustafa is a preternaturally patient man, even when he’s denied entry at a checkpoint because his ID is expired and stands to lose a day’s work and pay. But his conformist adherence to rules goes out the window when he learns that his son has been hit by a car. Desperate to reach the hospital, he decides to pay a smuggler to get him into Israel.

While this situation readily lends itself to an indictment of Israeli policies and practices, and the demonization of uncaring, unfeeling soldiers, Nayfeh is refreshingly disinterested in clichés and villains. He keeps his editorializing to a minimum: a blink-and-you-miss-it declaration of antipathy for settlers, the petty and foolish theft of an Israeli flag, a glimpse of a roadside billboard of Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands.

The filmmaker devotes much more time to the opportunism and greed of the gouging smuggler and his unhurried indifference to Mustafa’s urgency. If you relish movie shorthand, just the way the smuggler slips off his sunglasses tells us he isn’t a card-carrying member of a human-rights NGO.

It’s harder to discern the motivations of the couple who show up and ante up for a van ride to the other side. The woman speaks English and says she’s a German filmmaker; her Palestinian escort defends her continual filming with a caustic “Let her show the world our ‘happy life.’”

The movie does contain a brief, blunt critique of Israelis, specifically those well-intentioned people — guilt-ridden bleeding hearts, to apply an American pejorative—whose opposition to the occupation is more cosmetic than confrontational.

200 Meters is at its best when it relegates politics to the back seat, and lets Ali Suliman’s unwaveringly decent Mustafa carry the film. In addition to being the rock-solid moral center, he anchors this unexpectedly generous film in the everyday problem-solving dilemmas of ordinary people.

Mustafa is the furthest thing from a sandwich board for idealistic slogans, yet he emerges at the end of his ordeal as an archetype of coexistence. Tip your cap to Ameen Nayfeh, for keeping hope alive.

The JCC Film Fest presents 200 Meters at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 21 at The Neon, 130 E. 5th St., Dayton and online from 7 p.m., June 21 to 7 p.m., June 23. Tickets are $12 and are available here.

To read the complete June 2022 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.


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