Update: It didn’t win an Oscar
‘The Present’, directed by former investment banker Farah Nabulsi and nominated for an Oscar, won the BAFTA short film prize. It is pure heartstring-tugging anti-Israel propaganda complete with spooky music (single note on an acoustic guitar, echoing). Nabulsi even admits that it’s propaganda – watch her here (7:43) saying “I want to make films that raise the global social conscience”.
Before the opening titles we see a man waking up in the half-light on the ground on cardboard, next to the security fence. It is Yusef Khalidi (Saleh Bakri) wanting to be early in the queue for the checkpoint. He swallows a pill (he has back pain, see below). After the film’s titles, we see the queue at the checkpoint. According to Nabulsi this is real footage of Checkpoint 300. Of course we are never told the purpose of the checkpoints – to save lives. Neither are we told how Israel has reduced the number of checkpoints to the bare minimum necessary, of 13. In fact Nabulsi (9:40) tells us mendaciously that there are over 100 checkpoints!
Then we see Yusef waking up in bed in his house, presumably the next morning. His daughter Yasmine (Maryam Kanj, 8 years old) comes into his room to embrace him and we meet his wife Noor (Mariam Basha). What a photogenic family. It is the Khalidis’ anniversary and Yusef and Yasmine set off to buy Noor a present. We learn that Yusuf suffers from back pain.
Yusuf and Yasmine (5:20 in the film) join the queue at the ‘checkpoint’. This is clearly not real footage of a checkpoint. Yasmine looks wistfully out through the fencing at a Jewish man (we know that because Nabulsi has helpfully placed a kippa on his head…….) driving straight through the ‘checkpoint’ as the ‘IDF soldiers’ smile at him.
Yusef has to give his jacket, watch and wallet to the ‘soldiers’ and waits to be searched as Yasmine looks sadly on. Spooky music. Shot of a female ‘soldier’ refusing passage to a woman with a child because she does not have her permit.
Eventually they pass through. Yasmine looks upset and starts crying. She has wet her trousers. More heartstring-tugging as Yusuf embraces her and she says forlornly “It’s OK Dad, there’s nothing you could do“. Not a dry eye in the house.
They catch a bus and are next seen in an Arab-run supermarket. More heartstring-tugging as Yusuf buys Yasmine a crown and calls her “A little Princess.” She has a new pair of trousers.
Yusuf wants to buy some painkillers (presumably for his back) but the pharmacy next door is closed and the supermarket has run out. The point of this scene being presumably to remind us of Yusuf’s back pain. Then they go to an electrical shop where Yusuf has arranged to buy a new fridge for Noor on their anniversary. The fridge goes onto the back of a delivery truck with Yusuf and Yasmine inside (the cab of the truck, not the fridge). But on the way home they encounter IDF soldiers manning a roadblock. Yusuf has no choice but to push the fridge on the borrowed trolley. With his back pain (cue: Heartstring-tugging).
It starts to rain (obviously faked). More heartstring-tugging because Yasmine has left her jacket at the fridge shop; Yusuf givers her his jacket. The ‘rain’ quickly stops. They arrive at the ‘checkpoint’. “Why did you buy a fridge?” asks the soldier, deliberately made out (of course) to be obtuse and uncaring. He then makes Yusuf open the fridge. The ‘soldier’ inspects the closed bags of shopping in the fridge. He asks Yusuf to open a black bag. It contains Yasmin’s urine-soaked trousers. The ‘soldier’ yells “What’s that stink? You’re all disgusting! Go! Go!” (the point of course being to remind us how evil the IDF is).
Houston we have a problem! The fridge is too wide to go through the pedestrian route of the checkpoint. Yusuf asks if he can take it along the road route. The soldiers argue among themselves as to whether this is permissible (the point being presumably to show dissent among the ranks). Their eventual response is “No … Arabs go this way“. More underlining of the supposed inhumanity of the IDF. Yusuf loses it. Five soldiers point their guns at him. While they are preoccupied, we see Yasmine wheeling the fridge along the supposedly forbidden road. The closing scene is the backs of the Khalidis as they finally walk home, to the accompaniment of more spooky music.
Throughout the short film the ‘IDF soldiers’ are depicted as mean and heartless.
Their humanity is suppressed (next image obviously not from the film). As is the truth about the checkpoints.
Shame on the BAFTA Jury. Let’s hope the Academy Award Jury is more discerning.