After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United Directed by Christopher Browne
Opens May 21, Cinema Village
A sobering counterpoint to Clint Eastwood's feel-good reconciliation saga Invictus, Christopher Browne's sturdy documentary, After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United, shows not simply the ability of sports triumph to inspire national unity, but also the far more difficult act of sustaining such hope once the afterglow of winning has faded. In 2004, Bnei Sakhnin, a poorly funded northern Israel soccer club made up of Arabs, Jews, and foreigners, won the prestigious State Cup and vaulted into the esteemed Premiere League, along the way becoming a symbol of Middle East co-existence. Director Browne (A League of Ordinary Gentlemen) opens with this euphoric victory, but truly trains his gaze on the subsequent year, when elevated expectations, internal bickering, and mounting losses threatened to sabotage the squad's potential for fostering harmony in the hostile region. Throughout, the team's struggles on the pitch generate tension, but the film's most potent conflicts are off the field, whether it be captain Abbas Suan's attempts to live up to his nation-healing responsibility, or the way in which Arab and Jewish fans are drawn to root for their own. The resulting portrait is a cautionary rejoinder to typical sports-movie uplift, elucidating how athletics remain a dangerously precarious foundation upon which to construct lasting peace.