Portraying the life of a real person can be akin to knitting a silk scarf while wearing boxing gloves.
Think about a person that you know, say your Aunt Tillie. Now, imagine that you have an hour and a half to show her essence. Now, imagine you are attempting to reveal a person you don’t know, from a different era, say for example the famous Cleveland Indians baseball shortstop and manager Lou Boudreau. Where do you start, where do you end, what goes in the middle? This type of film is a hard pull.
People are complex. Lives are complex.
Somehow, directors/producers Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew scored with The Athlete.
The movie's subject, Abebe Bikila (or sometimes Abebe Bikila Bekele), may be an unfamiliar name. However, when the credits roll, you will know of the first African to win an Olympic gold medal. More importantly, you will have a strong sense of the man — not just the athlete — who blazed a trail for other great African distance runners.
Told with flashbacks and an economy of words, the movie opens with Abebe driving a tired Volkswagen Beetle through the magnificent Ethiopian landscape. We willingly climb into the passenger seat.
Methodically, the filmmaker drops clues, like the pounding bare footsteps that lead to Bikila‘s Olympic victories, as we learn of politics, geography, family, sports, triumph, relationships and tragedy. We are never told what to feel about Bikila, who only earned a birth to the 1960 Olympics as a replacement and won running in his bare feet; we are allowed to watch and draw our own conclusions.
One of the tests of a film is whether or not you will remember the story in a month or a year or 10 years. Though his tale has largely been forgot to history, I will remember this Ethiopian soldier who conquered Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964. — Bob Carson
Wed., March 24, 5 p.m.; Fri., March 26, 9:45 a.m. View the trailer, here.