LFF 2020: 200 Metres – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Ameen Nayfeh

A Palestinian father (Ali Suliman) is stuck on the other side of a border wall as he must smuggle himself into Israel where his son is in hospital.

The world record for sprinting 200 metres is 19.19 seconds, the average competitive run of the distance is around 21-22 seconds. To many the distance likely doesn’t seem too far, however for Palestinian father Mustafa (Ali Suliman) it seems a constantly extending ocean. He’s trapped in his home country, on the other side of the border wall, just 200 metres away from the Israeli hospital in which his son is currently in. While he says goodnight to them by shining a torch from just outside his house each night he’s desperate to get across the border to his Israeli wife and children. This is of course not by the regular means. Mustafa refuses to get a permit that would easily allow him in the country, instead he finds himself warily working his way in with a carful of people all wanting to evade border patrol and various checkpoints along the way.

Throughout the film we get to know the other figures that are taking this journey, some just so that they can have better chances of finding work, others returning from weddings, while one person simply seems to be documenting the experience for a project they are working on. With such personalities the conversation flows rather well. It feels natural and unforced. In fact much of the film’s content clicks and works, unlike other road trip films where some content feels as if it’s there to push the film to feature length. Perhaps it’s the dramatic tone of the film that helps with this point. The worry that the group are going to be found discovered or randomly attacked in the middle of nowhere. Tension lies as they cross each mile, a much more dangerous and lengthier method than the 200 metre walk across the border.

Suliman’s central performance helps to keep things believable and grounded over the short 90 minute course of the narrative. His character constantly thinks about his son, fearing not just that he might be able to get across the border into Israel, but might somehow die on his way and never be able to see his family again. The risk is made clear and lingers throughout each scene and advancement in the journey. Most of all this is felt after multiple fearful events and instances where hope seems to have been abandoned, or hope has potentially abandoned the characters, and Mustafa finds himself right outside the country in which he is trying to smuggle himself into.

It’s at this point that the tone shifts. The film becomes much more serious. Not exactly dark, but it certainly becomes quieter and more contemplative of what is being depicted, clearly trying to make a statement about not just the border wall but the Israel-Palestine divide as a whole. The initial tone is somewhat left behind as the film not exactly tries to wrap itself up but gets to its core point. Alongside this the pacing slightly changes to fully push the idea of the change in environment and how out of place the central figure – who you are at the side of for most of the entire run-time – feels. While this doesn’t affect the overall quality or style of the film it does take a couple of minutes to get used to, despite the journey there the ease into this change isn’t exactly gradual.

However, the film continues along its, if slightly shifted, lines rather well and continues to make for an interesting drama. When things could easily be comedic, although not in the third act, they continue to be played straight and gives the film the sense of drama and nervous dread that the characters feel as their trek unfolds. Much of this comes from the pacing of the film and the ways in which a number of key events and conversations occur, not to mention Suliman’s performance, on-screen for the majority of the piece. It all combines to make something rather interesting and engaging when it comes to the situations that you see the characters facing, especially impressive when it comes to how well everything flows before the third act change seem to happen.

While the third act seems to shift into something clearly political, but still keeping some interest from beforehand, 200 Metres is an engaging and fairly naturally flowing piece of nervous worry emitting from not just Ali Suliman’s strong central performance, but the supporting cast around him too.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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