Speed Sisters – Review ****

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If there’s a male dominated world par excellence, that would be car racing. Anyone who managed to go through all the Fast & Furious franchise knows that women racers are, well, possible (thank you Michelle Rodriguez), but they’re usually preferred to be wearing high heels in the middle of the track, or rubbing themselves against the cars (apparently it’s not the best for the paintwork). So to hear a story not only about women racers, but also women racers in the West Bank, it’s a rare treat and should be enjoyed accordingly.

Director Amber Fares follows the first all women racers team through a couple of seasons under the Palestinian Racing Federation. These 5 women, all very different between themselves, are divided between the sisterhood that naturally binds them together (being women in a man’s world) and the competitiveness for the title of Fastest Woman. Mona seems to keep crashing her car; Noor can’t figure out how to memorize the track, and is still trying to figure out the best way to apply her love of racing; Mayson juggles her clothes shop with some badassery behind the wheel. Betty is the pretty latina loved by the media, the perfect poster girl. And Marak, our story’s underdog, is the girl with a rough background that manages, with the support of her father, to beat all the odds, including the Federation bias, and become the best woman racer around.

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With such a fascinating story it’s hard to go wrong. It’s clear, however, that first time feature director Fares doesn’t give the same attention to all her potential protagonists. Which would be fine, if Speed Sisters weren’t sold as the story of a team. In the end, of course, some of the women are just naturally more interesting than the others (Mona particularly isn’t given too much attention, apart from her tendency to crash her car), and the documentary ends up just slightly shying away from making it all about Marah and Betty’s rivalry. But if the film somewhat fails to be a piece de resistance of female racing (we don’t see that much opposition to the idea of women racers; in fact, it seems the Palestinian society is perfectly fine with it, even championing the girls), it does deliver as a study of how life tries to go on normally at a war zone. The checkpoints that stop the women from traveling freely from Ramallah to Jerusalem, the difficulties in finding a proper place to train (bonus of a somehow scary rendez-vous with Israeli soldiers), in sum, a on-going war portrayed from a very unusual angle – the inside.

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Definitely not an exotic portrait of the Middle East, Speed Sisters may not be as strong as the sisters themselves, but a great story, even without whistles and fireworks, is still a precious thing. With a middle eastern indie soundtrack mixed with the sound of roaring engines, competent camera work and a very smart use of dash cameras, it’s definitely worth a check. Just don’t try those drift tricks in Central London…

Speed Sisters is coming to the cinemas an on-demand on 25th March, courtesy of Dogwoof.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.