‘Running Against the Wind’ Review: Love and Friendship in Addis Ababa

Following two childhood besties from a rural area in Ethiopia who reunite after a decade apart, “Running Against the Wind” is a lot of things: a sports drama, a coming-of-age story, a gangster flick. Cramming a flurry of events into its one hour-and-56-minute run time — to constant, ever-shifting pop tunes — the film is, at the very least, never boring.

It’s also, despite a potentially compelling conceit, pretty ridiculous.

In the opening scenes, the friends are still young: Abdi is a gifted runner while Solomon takes a liking to photography after a humanitarian worker takes the boys on an eye-opening trip to the bustling capital of Addis Ababa. But before too long, little Solomon nabs the worker’s fancy camera and runs away to the city, never to be seen again.

Fast-forward to the present-day and Abdi (Ashenafi Nigusu) is a national running champion still searching for his lost pal. Turns out Solomon (Mikias Wolde) is alive, but he has gotten mixed up with a group of thugs who are vexed when the strait-laced Abdi comes on the scene and sets his friend up with an honest job working for his running coach — who eventually promotes Solomon to team photographer.

The director, Jan Philipp Weyl (who also stars as Soloman’s photography mentor), injects his sprawling buddy story with a glossy, music video sensibility full of roller-coaster-like intrigue involving Abdi’s athletic rival, Solomon’s wife and baby, as well as his pugilistic friend.

Instead of deepening our connection to the characters, these weak subplots distract from the bond at the film’s center, giving it a fragmented, episodic feel that makes even the most harrowing incidents seem inconsequential.

At the very least, its light and uplifting mode is a welcome departure from the violent, overwhelmingly tragic course of most films set in Africa that are released in the United States. Sometimes happy endings do the trick.

Running Against the Wind
Not rated. In Amharic, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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