The directorial debut of British-Palestinian writer and director Farah Nabulsi, The Present follows the story of Palestinian father Yusef (Saleh Bakri) and his young daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) as they set off across the West Bank to pick up groceries and find an anniversary present for Yusef’s wife. Facing relentless roadblocks, checkpoints, and apathetic IDF soldiers – what should be a harmless day out turns out to be an exhausting and discouraging trudge to get home. Reflecting the everyday experiences of so many Palestinians, Nabulsi creates a discerning and significant look at life under military occupation and the experiences of those living without freedom of movement.
Photo © The Present
To get to their nearest shops, Yusef and Yasmine have to cross a checkpoint. While Israeli citizens are allowed to drive through the checkpoint in cars and are warmly welcomed by officers, Palestinian citizens are restricted to only using the pedestrian entrance and are greeted with demands of identification, intrusive questions, and intimidating scowls. Quickly irritated by having to answer such menial questions of ‘where are you going’ and ‘why are you here’ for the hundredth time, Yusef is locked in a dehumanising cage for a time out. In just under twenty-five minutes, The Present manages to simply but effectively depict just how exhausting everyday life can be for so many Palestinians. From having limited resources (such as the only pharmacy being shut), to having to wheel a refrigerator home because you’re not allowed to drive across roadblocks, to the humiliating nature of having to show identification to stone-faced soldiers just to buy bread and milk; Nabulsi astutely encapsulates the dehumanizing and frustrating experience of living under occupation.
What glues the film together is the tender father and daughter bond between Yusef and Yasmine; offering up a small dose of optimism and sweetness in such a demoralising situation. Showering his daughter with small glimmers of joy such as chocolate bars and plastic tiaras, Yusef’s efforts of supplying his daughter with a fun day out shopping are the most he can do to distract her from the injustices around her that have been so normalised.
Photo © The Present
Based off of Nabulsi’s own encounters in the West Bank, as well as the encounters of other Palestinians, Nabulsi combines real experiences with a stripped-back and unfussy style in her camerawork to mould an honest portrayal of what she dubs a ‘cruel and absurd reality’. The Present includes shaky scenes filmed at the infamous checkpoint 300; an often heaving checkpoint on the outskirts of Bethlehem known for its horrendous cases of broken rib cages and suffocating commuters as people queue for hours every morning to make it into Jerusalem. Careful not to be caught by officers at the gate, Nabulsi’s crew braved scaling the fences of the queues and immersing themselves in crammed crowds to document the horrific way Palestinians are hoarded like cattle just to enter the city. This dedication to interweaving a fictional tale with true experiences and real-life footage is one of the reasons The Present becomes such a heart-wrenching and striking watch.
Photo © The Present
Like most great short films, The Present builds off of a very simple premise; in this case, a man simply wanting to go grocery shopping. Yet, Nabulsi manages to infuse the candid plot with political nuance, discriminatory realities, and emotional turmoil. Exploring emotions ranging from decades-long grievance and rage to tremendous helplessness and fear, The Present is a powerful and sensitive portrayal of the inequalities and violence experienced every day by Palestinians.
Written by Abi Aherne
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