The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - RUNNING AGAINST THE WIND | The Movie Waffler


Running Against the Wind review
In Ethiopia, two friends battle hardship to achieve their professional dreams.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jan Philipp Weyl

Starring: Mikiyas Wolde, Ashenafi Nigusu, Joseph Reta Belay, Samrawit Desalegn, Genene Alemu

Running Against the Wind poster

Running Against the Wind, Jan Philipp Weyl’s (with Michael Wogh sharing writing duties) sweet natured melodrama about the diverse destinies of two childhood friends, was the Ethiopian submission for Best International Film in the 2020 Academy Awards (the year that Parasite won). Weyl’s film wasn’t nominated, but the fact that the film itself exists (and is so charmingly watchable) is perhaps cause in itself for celebration. The film industry in Ethiopia is nascent, consisting of small independent producers with very little capital and a limited access to resources. It seems that any product within Ethiopian cinema is a triumph of will, focus and fortune; a congruous metaphor for Running Against the Wind with its dual bildungsroman of Ethiopian children struggling against the odds.

Running Against the Wind review

Abdi and Solomon grow up together in an impoverished village. Abdi, much like the celebrated Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie (who claimed his success as a long distance runner was due to having to hotfoot the 10km route to school and suchlike) takes to running. And when a white photographer visits the hamlet to capture images of the indigenous life, the more nonchalant Solomon is intrigued and ends up being given a camera, which he discovers he has a talent for using.

Early sequences of Running Against the Wind are filmed with an appropriately sharp and creative eye: the savannahs are violet and turquoise at night, the desert floor shiny and marbled at day, with searing geysers filling the frame with silvery steam. The terrain is vivid and unforgiving, and the exclusive passions with which the boys take to their respective hobbies are deeply linked to their circumstances and surroundings: what else is there to do?

Running Against the Wind review

Intriguingly, the film does probe at the differing nature of the two disciplines. Abdi’s running is recognised, and he has support from the community. As an artist, however, Solomon is more solitary and wistful and so during adolescence he leaves the village for the big dreams of the city. The film’s management of chronology is intuitive, with the narrative floating across significant moments in the boys’ lives. Soon, Solomon (Mikias Wolde) is a young man living in a shanty town with a partner and little girl, while Abdi (Ashenafi Nigusu) is a significant player on the hugely popular athletics scene.

The paths of the two men cross again: Abdi is successful and newly wealthy, while Solomon is struggling and compromised by his links to the gangland of Addis Ababa. A deliberate irony of the film is how while Abdi runs professionally, Solomon is often filmed running for his life, from some petty crime or another, or, later, from the violent clutches of the gang he has extricated himself from. The film itself, however, is in no hurry and takes its time to craft an involving narrative of outrageous fortunes.

Running Against the Wind review

A major aspect of the film’s appeal is Nigusu’s performance. With a wall to wall smile, his Abdi is just lovely, a genuinely decent guy who struggles not only with his responsibility to Solomon but the hopes that the entire country seem to have invested in his ongoing success.

At times, the storytelling is slightly loose (in one scene Abdi has a right pop at Solomon for blowing a meeting with a famous photographer, yet in the very next scene we jump cut to Solomon’s successful independent exhibition, scored by uplifting chimurenga: what happened in the interim?), but the stirring imagery and committed performances of Running Against the Wind earn this film a proud bronze.

Running Against the Wind is on UK VOD now.

2021 movie reviews