|Index||3 reviews in total|
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.
Made by the humble and intelligent Rasselas Lakew and the brilliant
Davey Frankel, "The Athlete" is a powerful and moving story and a
well-made movie about overcoming family demons, accidents, and
obstacles, shown through the tenacious and resilient Olympian Abebe
Bakila. Bakila's story I assume must be particularly powerful to
Rasselas Lakew, not only because it's about a hero from his homeland
Ethiopia, but also because it must be a source of strength and power
that he has used throughout his life. The scene with the horse blinded
by his owner that Abebe and a hitchhiker came upon in their travels was
beautifully shot and written. There were so many shots that were
obviously taken all around the world (Bulgaria and Norway are the
locations I know shooting took place.)
Ruta Gedmintas was incredible as the physical therapist at the English health center who helped Abebe through his struggle of convalescence, as was Dag Malmberg. Blending biopic, autobiography, and mostly drama, this movie was two-and-a-half hours of hard work and the movie and the story both had their triumphs.
It was an honor to be at the Chicago Film Festival for this special screening. Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew were present afterwards for a Q&A. Rasselas described what it was like to be a first time filmmaker and having the opportunity to collaborate with Davey Frankel to put a story that he had spent so much time researching to screen. I also talked in private with Davey Frankel about his experiences after the showing. He was incredible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Athlete" is an uplifting story about an Ethiopian runner named
Abebe Bikila who became the first black African to win a marathon gold
medal at the Rome Olympics (barefoot nonetheless). Years later, he then
repeated his victory and record at the Tokyo Games making him the first
runner ever to accomplish this consecutively. Through all his
accomplishments he managed to be his countries hero second to
Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selsassie who he admired tremendously.
Abebe was a hero to his village; his own success brought his people and his land tremendous attention. People respected Abebe for who he was and what he did. In the film we see him as a family man and a serious man at that. On his way home he gets into a car accident that leaves him on the side of the rode trapped under his car for 10 hours. He is flown to England where he is brought back to consciousness but faces bad news; he is paralysed from the waist down. The true essence of the movie isn't about how an Olympian athlete deals with being paralysed but about a man's struggle with the need to compete and win. With real archival footage dispersed throughout the film, you truly get a feel for this brave mans story. This film really moved me and my friends.
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