We take a look at the exhilarating Speed Sisters…
Following Palestine’s first, best, and only all-female motor racing team, this documentary takes us through two seasons in their lives both on the track and off. As the film opens, we’re introduced to our cast of characters: the team’s leader, Maysoon, who is nice if straightforward, and a little sidelined; Mona, who is outspoken, fierce, and was one of Palestine’s very first female racers; there is Noor, who, like Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, usually fails to complete her races, bless her heart; there is Betty, a blonde Latina from a wealthy motor-racing dynasty; and there is Marah, who hails from poor, conservative Jenin.
It is the latter two who provide the main focus of the picture. The underdog story implied by the disparity in the two drivers’ backgrounds is very much used as a narrative structure. It isn’t actually as clear-cut as mere economics make it seem, because as the film opens Marah is the reigning women’s champion, and it is Betty who is out to steal the crown. On the other hand, while Marah has the sort of unglamorous, plain-speaking personality one might, perhaps, expect, Betty is conscious of her femininity and cultivates a glamour which makes her a favourite of sports journalists; in turn, the officials seem to treat her with favouritism, though this is of course denied on-camera. Either way, the rivalry makes for an involving main plot; while the two are on the same driving team, they are also in direct competition for individual records (the rules of the tournament are easy enough to follow within the film, but I won’t waste space here explaining them in detail). Along the way, there are plenty of bright spots, with other highlights including Maysoon’s marriage to a Jordanian racer, learning more about Marah’s background and her father’s support for her in the face of conservative opposition, and Noor’s continued efforts to memorise track routes – a wrong turn counts as an instant disqualification, and by the end of the film she’s switched to the drifting circuit in which, one hopes, she can remember whether she’s going clockwise or counter-clockwise.
It isn’t all bright spots, either; this is Palestine of course, and while the film never quite gets overtly political, we are constantly aware of the difficulties of living with soldiers, military checkpoints, and occasional skirmishes. But the drivers won’t let such a tiny thing get them down, even when a gas grenade bounces off Betty, leaving her with a nasty bruise on her behind; and likewise the film is mostly too busy squeezing all the possible life, excitement, hope, disappointment, and challenge into its brief eighty minutes. Look, there’s so much going on that I haven’t even mentioned the racing scenes, which would be exciting as it is, but are kitted out with videogame-style infographics and tasty electronica and heavy rock from contemporary Middle Eastern bands. The final race of the film, in particular, stands out as a setpiece, and the editing handily balances the on-track and the off-track drama for a tense, exciting finale. In short, the film should prove exhilarating, for petrolheads and non-petrolheads alike.
Speed Sisters is in cinemas and on-demand from 25 March 2016, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!