The Athlete

"Excellent"

The Athlete Review


An intriguing combination of documentary and drama, this film tells the remarkable story of Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila in a fragmented style that effectively parallels various events in his life.

In the 1960 Rome marathon, Bikila (Lakew) becomes the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal, returning to Ethiopia as a national hero. Then at the 1964 Tokyo Games, he'sthe first runner to defend his marathon title, only a few weeks after an appendectomy. But his life takes an unexpected twist in 1969, and instead of giving up, he works with his coach and friend Onni (Malmberg) to retrain for dogsled archery events in Scandinavia.

Filmmakers Frankel and Lakew use a wealth of documentary footage to portray Bikila's history, intercut with the events of 1969, during which he is beautifully played by Lakew. These dramatic scenes are sharply shot to capture both the raw landscapes of Ethiopia and the inner tenacity of Bikila himself.

They're also packed with tiny details that both give us insight into Bikila's life and echo events we see in the newsreel footage.

Along the way, the film taps into both Bikila's strong personality and the much bigger events he was part of. For example, his barefoot victory in Rome had extra resonance since Italy had once colonised and plundered Ethiopia. And the filmmakers also use Bikila's experiences at three Olympics to give his life an almost cyclical structure of overcoming the odds and being a victim of fate.

They also beautifully capture Ethiopia's deeply religious culture as well as the complex notion of patriotism in a tribal country.

And even more potent is the examination of fame and success, as Bikila struggles with the weight of his hero status while never quite living up to either his own ideals or his role as a husband and father (his wife and children are never seen in the film). This is done in a low-key way that might feel a bit soft and toothless, but quietly carries a steely message about inner strength and dignity. With Bikila's inspiring ability to focus on a goal, the film really earns its emotional kick.



The Athlete

Facts and Figures

Run time: 30 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 13th May 1981

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew

Producer: Rasselas Lakew, Davey Frankel, Mikael Aemiro Awake

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