There have been an innumerable amount of films about borders and the tension to cross them in both feature and short films. Farah Nabulsi’s film, The Present, positions the conflict in the daily routine of a father trying to go to the West Bank to retrieve a gift for his wife for their wedding anniversary. By centering on one man’s struggle to just get through one day, Nabulsi opens up the door for her audience to emotionally connect with its characters.
Yusef (played with restrained power by Saleh Bakri) goes into the West Bank to grab groceries and pick up a gift for his wife. They plan to celebrate their anniversary that evening, and since it feels like a routine trip, he brings his young daughter, Yasmine, along with him. By now, stopping at a checkpoint is routine procedure, but Yusef and Yasmine grow increasingly weary when they are forced to stand around for no reason. Once they are able to run their intended errands, they father and daughter wearily make the trek back.
You can seen the frustration on Bakri’s face but he holds those feelings back for the sake of just getting through the day. Young Yasmine doesn’t know all the details but it’s hard for any child to see their parent reduced to anything less than the ideal superhero in their minds. The men holding control over crossing don’t need to act the way they do, but they clearly love the position of power.
Nabulsi tells her story in a very matter-of-fact way, and this could’ve been told very dramatically with a lot of sensationalism. Nabulsi doesn’t pull the focus away from Yusef and Yasmine the entire film. This is a story about a larger conflict, but by grounding it with these two characters, we empathize with them and want them to get home to enjoy their evening. We are left with a striking image that suggests that Yasmine’s generation might hold the answers. The children are always watching.