Running the streets of Rome in 1960, an unknown, barefooted Ethiopian man stunned the world by winning Olympic gold in the marathon. Overnight, Abebe Bikila became a sports legend. A hero ... See full summary »
Running the streets of Rome in 1960, an unknown, barefooted Ethiopian man stunned the world by winning Olympic gold in the marathon. Overnight, Abebe Bikila became a sports legend. A hero in his own country and to the continent, Bikila was the first African to win a gold medal, and four years later in Tokyo would become the first person in history to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the marathon. This soldier and quiet son of a shepherd would be acknowledged by many as the greatest long distance runner the world had ever known. One evening while returning to his home in Addis Ababa from training in the Ethiopian countryside, Bikila was involved in a tragic car accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to walk and faced with the greatest challenge of his life, he struggled to maintain his will to live and in the process discovered a deeper meaning of competition, taking up archery for the Paralympics and competing as a handicapped dog sledder in Norway. Though... Written by
A film that transcends already promising material.
This is one of those stories that might have made a perfectly good movie of the week, given its inherent drama and interest. Instead, the tale has been transformed and heightened into something like poetry by skillful use of telling imagery and understated moments. The simple fact that it is set in Ethiopia - a country rarely seen on-screen - sets it apart and gives it a stark (and skillfully shot) beauty; details like a priest in his robes, home-bottled honey as an "unnecessary" bribe for soldiers at a barrier, a horse abandoned on a road, a traditional bard in a cheap bar, anchor it in a specific and intriguing reality. The looming tragedy of Ethiopia's later history is hinted at only by a confrontation with an arrogant cadet; this is still the essentially ancient Ethiopia of Haile Selassie, where the protagonist's car is an anomaly. The core of the movie lies in the latter's determined face as he looks beyond both the admiration and the disparagement of others towards his very personal desire to win, confronting one major unexpected obstacle with equally unexpected improvisation. We are aware throughout how very important the victories of one man were to a battered country - "It took 500,000 Italians to conquer Ethiopia; it took one Ethiopian to conquer Rome" - but the power of the film lies above all in the personal, as quietly and powerfully portrayed by newcomer Rasselas Lakew. In the near future, we should expect to hear more from both the writer/star and the director of this quietly wonderful film.
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