Saleh Bakri and Maryam Kanj in "The Present"

The Present (2020) is a short film directed by British-Palestinian Farah Nabulsi, co-written with poet and filmmaker Hind Shoufani. Filmed over a period of six days in Palestine, the film follows a family living in the Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2021. The film was released on Netflix in March 2021 but was not heavily promoted by the streaming service.

“...the film treads a fine line between its fictional narrative and the sense of documenting a reality that many face”

The film begins with Yusef (Saleh Bakri) lying on a piece of cardboard on the ground in the early hours of the morning, waiting to queue up to pass through Checkpoint 300 near Bethlehem. A graffitied separation wall towers above him in the first shot. The checkpoint is overcrowded and chaotic; men climb up the barriers and walk along the wall precariously instead of joining the masses, and the exhaustion in peoples’ eyes and the sense of futility is palpable. The scene was filmed on location using guerrilla filmmaking (a low budget and small crew, without filming permission). During a panel at the Other Israel Film festival, Nabulsi drew attention to its authenticity: “The only fiction in that scene is our protagonist. All the other hundreds of Palestinians you see there are actual Palestinians going to work at the crack of dawn.” From the very first scene, the film treads a fine line between its fictional narrative and the sense of documenting a reality that many face.

After Yusef arrives home, he and his wife Noor (Mariam Kamel Basha) discuss their wedding anniversary, which is that day. Yusef tells her that he will go to the nearby town with their young daughter Yasmine (Maryam Kanj) to buy a gift for her and Yasmine places her handwritten shopping list, complete with illustrations, in his hand. In contrast with the grim image of the checkpoint, Yusef’s home is warmly lit and comforting in its domesticity. His facial expression instantly changes as soon as he enters, and the viewer is allowed an insight into his loving family life, which becomes an image to hold onto throughout the ordeals of the rest of the film.

“The Present packs a lot into 24 minutes, but it is perhaps its brevity which gives it such clarity.”

Through the subsequent events, Nabulsi poignantly highlights the sacrifice of dignity that Yusef and Yasmine are forced to make simply to run errands, as they cross another checkpoint, as well as the degradation and constant threat of danger they must endure while living under Israeli occupation. It is painful to watch Yusef’s humiliation as he is forced to sit in a cage at the checkpoint while the soldiers check his documents for an unnecessarily long time, and Yasmine looks on, fearful. Upon their return from the town, they are stopped again; the viewer feels a sense of exhaustion set in at the realisation that this is not only a daily reality but happens multiple times a day. While trying to get permission to pass through, Yusef constantly asserts that his house is “just there”, pointing up the road – as if the distance will make any difference. This moment highlights the nonsensical nature of the situation, and its cruel injustice. Yusef’s patience throughout the film is seemingly endless, and it is only near the end that he finally breaks, all of his anger emerging as he slams his hands on the table repeatedly and demands to be allowed through the gate.

“There was nothing you could do,” Yasmine says to her father at one point in the film. Nabulsi has said in an interview that this line is “reflective of these young children who watch their parents [...] made to feel impotent in the face of humiliation and degradation, and the control of soldiers. These children grow up too fast… no children should be subjected to what they are going through and watching their parents go through.” The film’s script is powerfully minimalist, allowing the images to speak for themselves, but the few exchanges between the father and daughter become representative of the dynamic of countless parents and their children who have found themselves in the same situation.

As the credits roll, Yusef and Yasmine walk off into the distance up the road towards their house, appearing both dejected and triumphant. Yusef drapes his coat over Yasmine’s shoulders. Their day has been long, arduous, and humiliating, but they are ultimately victorious – although the victory is small, and one that should not have had to be fought for at all.


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Nabulsi provides audiences with an ideal introduction to the situation in Palestine for those who are not well-versed in its details but have a desire to understand it. While an awareness of the context is useful, the emotional impact of the film is enough to convey its message without any prior knowledge. The situation Yusef and Yasmine encounter every day is enough to remind to the viewer that these characters could be any Palestinians, since thousands encounter such checkpoints on a daily basis. The Present packs a lot into 24 minutes, but it is perhaps its brevity which gives it such clarity. The narrative is simple, but the emotional impact is great, as the film constantly swings between quotidian happinesses and profound injustices.