Review by James Lindorf
“Rising Phoenix,” which is now streaming on Netflix, explores the history of the Paralympic Games from its inception as a way to rehabilitate disabled British World War II veterans, to a global event. The film interweaves stock footage of older games, the HD coverage of recent games, and absolutely gorgeous reenactments of some of its subjects’ most significant moments. Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, “Rising Phoenix” profiles athletes from around the world, including Burundi, Italy, England, and the United States.
“Rising Phoenix” is not of the best all-around documentaries to come out in years. It perfectly balances being informative with entertaining while also being stunning. From the 3D Printed statue that makes the Paralympians look like Greek Gods, to the adrenaline-filled events, to the recreations, there isn’t a moment where you will want to take your eye off the screen. Bonhôte and Ettedgui take advantage of your rapt attention to teach you things like that the para in Paralympics isn’t related to the word paralyzed. It is was the chosen name because while the Paralympics may be separate from the Olympics, they are on the same level, parallel to each other.
Rising Pheonix is filled with inspiring and heartbreaking stories, like that of French long jump champion and sprinter Jean-Baptiste Alaize, who explains how he survived a machete attack in Burundi during the civil war in 1994 when he was just three. Then, of course, there is the Italian fencer is Beatrice ‘Bebe’ Vio, who inspired the documentary’s title. She was given the nickname ‘Rising Phoenix’ as a teen when, as she puts it, “A part of my body was trying to kill me.” At just 11, one day, she came home from training with a headache and a bruise on the top of her head. Her mother questioned whether she had been fencing without a mask, she hadn’t, it was her first symptoms since she contracted meningitis. She first had both her arms amputated, then both her legs when the disease returned. Vio sums it up as “S*** happens,” and follows it up with “I have to fence to win against my disease.”
“Rising Phoenix” may not have the shock factor of some of Netflix’s more sensationalized documentaries like “Tread” or “Tiger King” but it makes up for that in artistry and emotion beyond surprise. By the time credits have rolled, you can expect to have had a few hearty laughs, maybe shed a few tears, and be the athletes’ newest fans.
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