The Athlete

The Athlete


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Mixing drama and documentary footage, Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew's feature film debut tells the quite remarkable story of Abebe Bikila, who became an overnight sensation when he won the Olympic gold in the Rome marathon - while running barefoot. Beginning with Bikila watching film footage about himself, the film flashes back to track his story through success to injury and his mental battle to overcome his physical limitations.

Frankel has a background as a visual artist and it shows in his knack for framing a scene. Even though the film was shot on a very tight budget it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into both the overall look and to ensuring that key moments have a certain level of 'wow'.

Copy picture

This is particularly apparent in some of the striking natural footage used, especially a scene in which Bikila (played with a nice level of inscrutability by Lakew) is running through the African countryside as a troop of monkeys scatters ahead of him. This breathtaking shot is all the more impressive in terms of filmmakers' craft when you learn that the shot was a one off and shot not by helicopter, as it might first appear, but by a crew standing on the opposite side of a gorge.

There is no doubting the strong ideas at work and archive footage from the Olympics is put to excellent use, blending well with the central narrative. However, the film, like Bikila, becomes paralysed by his injuries, as the action moves away from the beautiful African backdrop and becomes trapped in a hospital room. This adversely affects the pace, which slows to a crawl in scenes between Lakew and his coach Onni (Dag Malmberg) that are too long and suffer further from the fact that both the protagonists have very distinctive (and different) accents which are occasionally hard to make out. Towards the end of the film, however, Frankel and Lakew leave the world of the wards behind and give the denoument and decent shot in the arm of action that - although feeling somewhat stifled by what has gone before - may well see some reaching for a tissue or two.

This is an ambitious and brave project which, if it doesn't quite reach the heights it might, is still a worthwhile watch and bodes well for both filmmakers in future.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2009
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Biopic/ documentary hybrid about Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila.
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Director: Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew

Writer: Rasselas Lakew, Davey Frankel, Mikael Aemiro Awake

Starring: Rasselas Lakew, Dag Malmberg, Ruta Gedmintas, Abba Waka Dessalegn

Year: 2009

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US, Germany


EIFF 2009
AIM 2009

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