Ona Carbonell: Starting Over – ★★★ 1/2

Ona Carbonell: Starting Over – ★★★ 1/2

Adan Bonet opens the eyes of the viewer to the gruelling endeavours of being a mother and an Olympic calibre athlete in Ona Carbonell: Starting Over. A wonderful look at what willpower is in humans.

This intimate new documentary follows the Spanish synchronised swimming Olympic medallist, from the birth of her son to her return to elite competition, revealing the challenges of the balance between family and professional life. 

An athlete’s life can be difficult enough when they are just trying to keep themselves fit and healthy for each event they partake in. But, when that athlete has to return quicker than expected after the birth of her child to make it to the postponed Tokyo Olympics, well, it becomes something all the more complicated and daunting.  

Adan Bonet uses various methods to convey Carbonell’s story in Starting Over, from talking head pieces to unobtrusive shots. We are constantly obtaining information about her life and situation, which has become quite a fascinating piece. Ona is a woman who may have bitten far more than she can chew in trying to return so soon and having to go through the turmoil and stresses of qualifications etc. You get exhausted for her as she battles through all her challenges.

While we have seen many a documentary about the struggles of trying to be a top-level athlete, we have seen very few, if any, when it comes to raising a baby at the same time. We see Ona try to take her child everywhere, conscious of focusing on the needs of her young child as well as her aspirations. But, we also see the struggles she faces in battling authorities and even her own governing body with the utter lack of facilities to help her and her child.  

Most athletes at her level wait until their career is over before having a child; why should they, though? Why can’t they have a child at a younger age when they are still competing, and why are the checks and balances not in place to assist with athletes who do. It is easy for male athletes to have children when they want, but females are seemingly faced with one or the other choice, their career or a family. In modern times, it feels nonsensical to have such restrictions on someone who is in a small percentage of the world in their sport and, in truth, for any woman.

For the entirety of Starting Over, you wonder how Carbonell has the energy and will to keep juggling both roles, yet somehow she does. Honestly, you can only marvel at her determination to have the best of both worlds rightfully. That isn’t to say she has it all her own way, though, and there are far too many hurdles for her to get over to have her child present with her during this crucial stage, and as we continue her journey, the film becomes all the more eye-opening.

Bonet showcases this brilliantly and asks why they aren’t doing more for their athletes to be raised. Starting Over is, of course, Ona Carbonell’s story, yet you sense that it is a story that echoes all over the world, of a mother wanting the best for her child, yet also wanting to do the thing she loves. In that respect, Bonet succeeds in giving us a moving look at motherhood while at the same time blasting the system for its lack of support for mothers.

Ona Carbonell: Starting Over will be streaming exclusively for free on Rakuten TV now.

★★★ 1/2

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