Trailer for "Running on the Sand"/United King Films
Score: Three and a half stars out of five/Walla system!, image processing
After teaching him a sentence to recite in Hebrew for a story photo, Netta, who runs his soccer team alongside her father, praises the team's new outfielder Jimmy Mikel for his impressive use of the letter H. What she doesn't know is that the person next to her is not a Nigerian soccer player but an Eritrean refugee who has perfected his Hebrew over five years working as a dishwasher in a fancy Tel Aviv catering. Omari was arrested by immigration police alongside his roommates and fled from the police at the airport, where Maccabi Netanya soccer fans mistakenly identified him as the new acquisition that would help their beloved team get promoted. Not long after, Omari fixes the glitch - when his teammates ask him to pick a song to celebrate with in the locker room, he offers "Revolution of Joy" in fake accented English, a garbled H and everything.
"Running on the Sand," producer Adar Shafran's first film as a director, uses the classic structure of a comedy of errors to talk about the attitude of Israeli society towards its foreigners. Omari is already part of Israeli society who understands the language and subtleties, but the guise of a different kind of stranger, one who on the one hand comes by invitation and on the other hand the Israelis speak about him in Hebrew over his head, allows him to expose all the subtext beneath promises such as "He is part of us" or "We are all one family." Asylum seekers from Africa are often perceived in Israel as total strangers, an ultimate kind of other whose humanity can be ignored and treated as part of a "social phenomenon" or simply a "problem." Even when the media reports on huge brawls between opponents and supporters of the Eritrean regime in the streets of Israel, such as those that broke out shortly before the premiere of "Running on the Sand" at the Haifa Festival, it will usually do so through Israeli eyes and not from the perspective of those who live this reality.
From "Running on the Sand" / Tal Zelikovich, courtesy of United King Films
The same humanity and vanishing perspective is at the center of "Running on the Sand," which not only centers on the image of a refugee – it presents a variety of characters of refugees from Africa, with unique character, life stories, and even dreams. Its strength and courage stem from the choice to combine these characters in a lighthearted, even slightly formulaic, comedy in which the Eritrean hero and his Sudanese friend teach each other to swear in their mother tongue. A closing slide notes that all the African characters in the film are played by actors who themselves came to Israel as refugees, with Sean Shunsola Munguza as Omari and Michael Kavia Aharoni as Nigel, both Congolese natives who have lived in Israel since childhood.
The plot is somewhat reminiscent of the hit series "Ted Lasso", not only because of the cultural encounter between people from different places within a football team, but also thanks to the optimism and kindness of the main characters. However, the world of football is not really very significant to the plot and serves mainly as a backdrop. Omari doesn't take quick soccer lessons and doesn't turn out to be the Cinderella of south Tel Aviv. He's not even trying to move on as a real football player, just taking the time until Nigel arranges a ride to Germany for the two of them with a container of avocado, and meanwhile develops a gentle and cute bond with his secret partner Neta (Kim Or Azoulay in an excellent performance). It's a strange mix of romantic comedy, comedy of mistakes and social drama, centered on Nigel's attempts to track down Omari's brother, with whom contact was cut off on his journey from Eritrea to Israel.
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This combination of genres is necessary to create a story accessible to a wide audience without embellishing reality too much. It's certainly not a realistic film or one that really depicts the lives of asylum seekers in Israel, but it also doesn't fully commit to a fantasy of a perfect happy end against all odds. It's an optimistic, funny and moving fairy tale, a small and well-executed story that doesn't try to solve the situation or burden the whole issue with one character. Even when completely absurd things happen, the impossible reality stays there, and we just look at it from a more optimistic and joking perspective than usual. The script is polished and full of perfect little comic brilliance, and the cast also does an excellent job, from the main actors through smaller roles of actors such as Zvika Hadar and Ori Biton.
Editorial Note: The review was first published in early October as part of a review of the Haifa Film Festival. Now, with the release of the film, we are bringing it back together.
- More on the subject:
- Kim Or Azoulay
- Sean Mongoza
- Zvika Hadar