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NY TIMES Review of Speed Sisters

NY TIMES Review of Speed Sisters

Unconventional in form as well as content, “Speed Sisters” is a sports-underdog documentary that pays only lip service to the genre’s typical strive-setback-win narrative arc. Loose and unforced, this debut feature from Amber Fares explores the rewards and challenges of belonging to the first female streetcar racing team in the Middle East.

Situated in the West Bank — and with the Israeli occupation a constantly nagging background presence — the story bounces among five young women as they navigate a sport whose judges might not be entirely neutral and whose rules can seem arbitrarily enforced. Racetracks are improvised in parking lots and empty market squares, and training spaces are elusive. The rush of racing, though, offers release and distraction from other frustrations in the women’s lives — though with five subjects to cover in only 80 minutes, Ms. Fares is by necessity less than probing.

As a result, most emerge with little more than a single defining trait — the modest one; the headstrong one; the outsider — that’s nevertheless enough to keep us engaged. The movie’s rough-and-tumble look works in its favor, and the occasional doldrums allow for reflection on the obstacles, military and otherwise, the women face daily. The absence of overt political statements, however, makes it all the more shocking when one woman is fired on by a border guard. Maybe trying to train near an Israeli detention center wasn’t such a good idea.

Subtly rebellious and defiantly optimistic, “Speed Sisters” masks the sound of gunshots with the roar of revving engines. For these women, driving symbolizes a freedom they can otherwise only imagine.