Running Against the Wind (2019) – Film Review
Director: Jan Philipp Weyl
Cast: Mikiyas Wolde, Ashenafi Nigusu, Samrawit Desalegn
By Sarah Morgan
Life can be changed in a split second, by a simple decision or a ‘sliding doors’ moment, in which fate takes a hand.
That seems to be the message coming out of Jan Philipp Weyl’s moving drama, set in both the dusty desert landscape of rural Ethiopia and the slums of its capital city, Addis Ababa.
When we first meet Abdi and Solomon, they are carefree 12-year-olds living a simple life in their poverty-stricken village. They grow even closer when Solomon is orphaned and moves in with Abdi, becoming his brother in the eyes of the local elders.
Neither boy has much time for education, but the arrival of a western photographer has a huge impact on them both, showing them a different view of their lives while revealing what’s out there in the big, wide world.
While Abdi concentrates on long-distance running, something he has an obvious talent for, Solomon steals the photographer’s camera and heads to Addis Ababa alone.
Years later, we catch up with them both again. Abdi has been chosen to train with a top coach in the city, in the hope he can make it as an international athlete. Solomon, meanwhile, has fallen in with a gang, and had a child with one of its members.
He ekes out a living in various ways, even carrying out tasks for a local gangster, but still dreams of being a professional photographer.
As Abdi’s star continues to grow, he eventually tracks Solomon down, never having lost hope that his surrogate brother was still alive. The pair have an emotional reunion that will change them once again.
Ashenafi Nigusu and Mikias Wolde play the central characters at adults. Both deliver touching, believable performances, although it’s Wolde who really excels, perhaps because Solomon is the one facing the biggest challenges in both his professional and personal lives.
Weyl paints a compelling portrait of life in a city slum, although there is little here we haven’t seen before in a myriad of other films set among a subculture struggling to survive – the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and Salaam Bombay! instantly spring to mind.
Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing watch. Clearly legendary runner Haile Gebrselassie was impressed with the script too – he pops up as himself in a cameo, proving he may have an acting career ahead of him should he want one.