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Rising Phoenix Review

August 28, 2020

Presumably, the makers of this documentary about Paralympic athletes were expecting its release to coincide with the Tokyo games this year, only for them to be postponed because of Covid-19. Hopefully, this partly makes up for the postponement, given that it celebrates the Paralympics and the fortitude and determination of these differently abled athletes, each of whom has a compelling story to tell.

At one point, the charismatic Italian fencing champion Bebe Vio observes that when you see athletes at the Olympics waiting to compete, it often looks as if they all have the same kind of body. Paralympics athletes, on the other hand, each look dramatically different from each other: some have one leg, some have no legs, some have all their limbs but can’t walk, and so on. That range and variety is reflected in the personal histories recounted here.

Some of the athletes were born this way, while others lost limbs due to childhood disease, accidents or even, in the case of runner and long-jumper Jean Baptise Alaize, from injuries caused by machetes during the Burundi civil war. Only the most callous could resist welling up as Alaize describes seeing his own mother killed in front of him when he was three years old, and how he coped with the trauma by learning to run. British runner Jonnie Peacock is a more jovial figure but just as impressive. Indeed, they are all very impressive.

That said, the film would have been more effective if its relentlessly uplifting score didn’t keep figuratively prodding the viewer in the chest, telling us to feel moved, dammit. Likewise, the editing is annoyingly frenetic at times, and you long for a more measured approach that would allow you to appreciate the athletes’ skills, instead of seeing their prowess chopped up into tiny snippets of footage.

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