Nathan is walking to school one day, making his way along the border wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Quite unexpectedly, a ball falls from the other side. He kicks it over, only to have it returned. He then meets another boy, Khaled, on the other side.
A friendship soon develops between the two, and they find ways to play and bond with one another, even with the wall between them. But as the realities of where they live come to the fore, their friendship may not quite survive.
Charming, sweet and full of thoughtful simplicity, this short captures how the innocence and delight of childhood friendship can flourish in even the most polarizing of situations. The images and cinematography are pared down, even elegant, and the camerawork graceful and compelling. But these elements of craft never get in the way of telling a humanistic story that focuses on the common ground between people and the essential bonds of connection.
All the events of the narrative are framed through the eyes of children, who have the gift of taking one another as they are. The sequence between Nathan and Khaled as they cultivate a friendship despite the barrier between them is hopeful and heartwarming as it builds their relationship through gifts, gestures and time spent with one another. Despite very little dialogue, it conveys the truth that young children have an innate openness and belief in goodness, and an ability to enjoy themselves despite the turmoil of the world around them.
Though the storytelling’s center is Nathan, the film also possesses an almost observational quality, whether it’s in the wide shots or how at-large events and ideas are woven into the narrative action and background sound. Slowly the realities of their world creep in, and Nathan finds himself worried about Khaled during a skirmish and sets out to warn him.
The tension here is not played for suspense or thrills, though viewers worry and question Khaled’s safety as Nathan does. Instead, the magic and innocence of childhood are ruptured, and Nathan sees an inkling of the deep-seated complexities of the conflict at work.
Young actors Adi Weiss as Nathan and Assi Goffer as Khaled play the friends with guileless charm and lightness, but also capture the flickers of anxiety that come from living amidst a long-running conflict. We root for their friendship, even when we question whether or not their friendship will survive the realities of the wall and all that it represents. Nathan begins to have doubts as well, and when he confronts the cold realities of their situation, he nevertheless goes to help his friends, despite the danger he puts himself in.
Told with great empathy and focused on the experiences of its young characters, “Over the Wall” portrays the belief that humanity has more common ground at its core, and holds fast to the beauty of this idea. But it’s also not naive, especially when we arrive at the film’s end, which reaches a heartbreaking conclusion all the more poignant for its restraint and simplicity. The final feeling is one of bereft sadness at what potential — of joy, friendship and understanding — is lost for Nathan and Khaled, and the world at large.