After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United Review

“Like 'Invictus,' This Doc Heroically Expresses Hope That Sports Can Unite A Divided People.”

May 14th, 2010

AFTER THE CUP: Sons of Sakhnin United

Variance Films

Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten

Grade: B

Directed By: Alexander H. Browne, Christopher Browne

Written By: Alexander H. Browne, Christopher Browne

Cast: Waji Abboud, Mazen Ghanayem, Eyal Lachman, Abbas Suan

Screened at: Critics' DVD, NYC, 5/15/10

Opens: May 21, 2010

So Arabs and Jews are getting together for indirect talks, American diplomats acting as couriers. What is there that's new to talk about after so many decades? Maybe talking is not the way to accomplish much. Something more physical is in order to bring disparate people together, though that physicality is not war. Sporting events have been used by national leaders to become catalysts for uniting people who have been traditional enemies. While it takes more than a couple of games before kumbaya is sung, given the passion for sports of people in several national states, the program depicted in this documentary certainly cannot hurt.

In "After the Cup," directed by Alexander H. Browne and Christopher Browne, talking heads take a back seat to the soccer field, and those who do get interviewed are not sitting stiffly in a chair but are caught by the camera in moments of sadness and elation, depending on how their team is doing. The team in question, Bnei Sakhnin, is named for an almost exclusively Arabic town in the Galilee, some miles from the city of Acre. What stands out here and throughout the movie is that everyone speaks Hebrew, in fact one wonders whether the predominantly Arabic players on the team consider Arabic their second language. They are said to have one foot in each camp: as Israeli citizens, they appear loyal to the state of Israel, but they are also sympathetic with those they call their brothers in Gaza and the West Bank.

Much of the footage is on soccer fields in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and their home town, with citizens in the stands and watching on TV going into hysterics whenever their team scores a goal. In other words, like Europeans and South Americans (but not like us in the U.S. where soccer is no rival for interest for football and baseball), the sport is exciting but winning is everything. By some unprecedented quirk, Bnei Sakhnin, representing the town of 23,000 people, wins the Cup and is therefore entitled to play against European teams. But generally they're in the dumps, fighting not to be número uno but simply to stay in the majors, which in Israel is called the Premier League and consists of twelve teams. One must remain in the top ten to stay in the league.

Though the underfunded fellows of Bnei Sakhnin are saddened far more than they are elated, they do remain in the league thanks to the stellar playing of their captain,, Abas Suan, but no thanks to their Jewish coach, Eyal Lachman, who takes the blame for the team's dismal record and is booed mightily in the stands. Utlimately he is forced to deliver his resignation to the Arabic president, Mazan Ghanayem, an event broadcast by the TV anchorman, Waji Abboud.

The idea of bringing Arab-Israeli Muslims and Israeli Jews together through sports would appear a most desirable concept if you are on the left politically, like, for example, the Israeli Peace Now group, but we are made witness to a despicable performance from a smattering of right-wing Jews in Jerusalem who, upon the landing of the team from the Arabic town in the holy city for a game deliver vile comments to them such as "Muhammed is a homo."

The film would surely fit into such categories as a human rights festival though apolitical moviegoers who like sports will appreciate the keen action scenes filmed on the field by Eitan Raklis. Dialogue is in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

This is the not the first time that sports has been used to help unite people who have been traditional enemies. In the early seventies, Mao Zedong invited an American ping pong team to go to China to play against the renowned Chinese team. The Americans were treated to a trip to the Great Wall and an invitation to ballet. Following this, Nixon made the historic trip to shake hands with Mao and to pave the way for recognition of the Mao government and eventually its U.N. membership. The film "Invictus" took us to South Africa after the accession of Nelson Mandela. In an attempt to heal racial relationships between the blacks and the minority whites, he introduced a mostly white team to a rugby game against other countries, leading even the black audience in the stands to root for their own [white] team.

Unrated. 80 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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