Opening with the impressionistic image of a young man sprinting across the desert, his figure blurred by the sandy blast of a dust devil, Jan Philipp Weyl’s film ruminates on life’s unexpected whirlwinds that can either uplift one’s hopes or blow them to pieces.
Abdi (Ashenafi Nigusu) and Solomon (Mikias Wolde) are childhood friends who grow up in rural Ethiopia. Their paths diverge dramatically when Solomon runs away to the big city with dreams of becoming a photographer, only to end up on the streets, scraping for food and mixing with bad company. Ten years later, Abdi, who idolises the Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie, also moves to the capital, where he continues training and even wins a national championship. After an emotional reunion, Abdi tries to pull Solomon out of his precarious situation, but fate has other plans.
The film deftly explores the complexities of brotherhood, be it the bond between Solomon and his fellow outcasts, or the camaraderie among Abdi’s athletic team. Though perhaps not always assured in their performances, Nigusu and Wolde capture their characters’ first hug after years apart in a beautifully bittersweet moment. Shyly smiling at each other, the two young men suddenly and movingly revert to their childhood selves. Such intimacy, however, is overshadowed by dramatic contrivances: instead of focusing on the changing tides of the pair’s rapport, the film jumps from sports film empowerment cliches to full-on action sequence, making for an inconsistent tone.
Quibbles aside, this is still an engaging watch that even gets a cameo from Gebrselassie. The deft camerawork showcases a dynamic Ethiopia – from tiny villages to the gritty underbelly of bustling Addis Ababa – and, let’s face it, everyone loves a good training montage.