sat 18/09/2021

Blu-ray: Running Against the Wind | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Running Against the Wind

Blu-ray: Running Against the Wind

Overlong but emotionally affecting coming-of-age drama from Ethiopia

Doing their job: Ashenafi Nigusu and Mikiyas Wolde as Abdi and Solomon

There’s much to enjoy in Running Against the Wind: Jan Philipp Weyl’s contemporary Ethiopian epic is a visual treat, with excellent performances from its two young leads. And how often do we get to see a film in Amharic with English subtitles?

We first encounter Abdi and Solomon (played first by Ashenafi Nigusu and Mikias Wolde) as children playing in their remote village. Abdi has a talent for running, while Solomon is intrigued by visiting western aid worker Tino’s digital camera. He takes the boys on a two-day trip to Addis Ababa, where Abdi is enraptured by a glimpse of the Berlin Marathon on a giant screen and Solomon gazes at Tino’s photo albums. A year later, Solomon takes Tino’s advice to “do your job” literally, stealing his camera and heading back to the capital, Abdi looking on, frowning, as Solomon heads off through the scrubland. Exactly how Solomon gets to Addis Ababa is never revealed, along with how he manages to charge the camera and take photographs through a badly cracked lens. It’s a very Dickensian set up, and the largely wordless sequence showing his first few days in the city is heartbreaking. That Solomon will fall in with a street gang is inevitable, and one of the film’s frustrations is how little we see of Weyl’s excellent child cast; we abruptly zip forward a decade and see Solomon (now played by Mikias Wolde) now married with a young daughter and living in a slum, earning a pittance as a rubbish collector.

cover Running Against The WindBack home, Abdi (Ashenafi Nigusu) continues to run, moving to the city to continue his training, wondering about the friend he hasn’t seen in a decade. Will their paths cross? Of course. Abdi begins to win races, meeting the legendary Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrelassie and overwhelmed by the attention he receives. The friends’ reunion is brilliantly handled, Abdi’s sporting ascent in stark contrast to Solomon’s downward spiral. Abdi trains, oblivious to Solomon pushing his dust cart just metres away. Abdi's joyous amazement that Solomon is still alive is touching, the pair smiling at one another in silence.

Part of me wishes that Weyl had ended the film at this point; what follows is frequently implausible and overplotted. Are we watching a fairy tale, a coming-of-age drama or a semi-documentary? Solomon seems on the brink of becoming a professional photographer (helped by Weyl’s supporting role as a mentor), while Abdi is surely destined for sporting success. There’s a super turn from Genene Alemu as Abdi’s gruff, big-hearted Coach. Occasional flashbacks to the pair as children are effective, but the action is rushed. Scores are settled, wrongs are righted, before a muddled, unsatisfying close: is Weyl telling us that it’s better not to be ambitious, to settle just for what one has? Eureka’s release comes with no extras. Watch this for the gorgeous visuals and gripping first half.

@GrahamRickson

Abdi’s sporting ascent is in stark contrast to Solomon’s downward spiral

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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