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Directed by
Christopher Browne & Alexander H. Browne
Produced by
Roger Bennett, Alexander H. Browne & Michael Cohen
Released by Variance Films
English, Arabic & Hebrew with English subtitles
USA. 80 min. Not Rated

After The Cup: Sons Of Sakhnin United opens with the unlikely win at the 2004 Israel Cup in soccer (what all countries but the U.S. call football) by a team based in the Arab town of Sakhnin—it had only just moved up to the major league. The team is owned by an Arab with political ambitions, coached by an aggressive Jew, mixes young Arab, Jewish, and foreign Christian players together in a rundown stadium, and is cheered on by devoted fans, who noisily pin onto them the hopes of a beleaguered minority, the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Arab.

American directors Christopher and Alexander H. Browne follow the team, Bnei Sakhnin, through an emotional year where they have to prove their standing is not a fluke. They capture a stressful roller coaster ride where politics brings the usual passions and pressures of partisan fans into even sharper relief. The weight of the need for the symbolic success by the country’s only Arab team affects the coach’s field strategies—he makes a point of benching the international players in favor of the Arab players. (Though the opprobrium against him throughout the town isn’t any worse than what one hears on U.S. sports radio shows.) Off the field, tensions particularly build when they play Bnei Jerusalem, and the usual fan loyalties turn ugly, blowing up into national news.

Through all the fury, the team’s handsome, charismatic captain, native son Abas Suan, somehow manages to keep his equanimity beside his excited, traditionally dressed wife. Amidst his team’s desperate effort over the season to stay in the majors, he is picked for Israel’s all-star national team and gets to spectacularly play in key international qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup. (This portrait of athletic grace under fire is very similar to that of the Colombian soccer star in Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist’s The Two Escobars, which will be shown on ESPN next month.) 

This is an intimate and entertaining look at a populist effort to mainstream Arabs into what could be an optimistic future, an integrated Israeli society. The “where are they now” scroll at the end has been updated since the film’s showings at the 2007 Tribeca Festival and the 2008 Other Israel Film Festival. Their ups and downs continued, with all landing on their feet. Nora Lee Mandel
May 21, 2010



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