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The Last Victory (2004)

De Laatste overwinning

Directed by:

John Appel

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: Netherlands

We all know how fanatical the Italians are about their football, but I suspect that for most viewers this one will come right out of the blue. It certainly did for me. For, away from the goal-grabbing glamour of Serie A, the residents of Siena have a sporting passion that’s all their own: the annual horse race, or “Palio”.

In this strange little film from Dutch documentarist John Appel, we’re introduced to the weird and wonderful residents of Civetta, a district of Siena where the absence of a Palio victory in the last quarter-century appears to be driving everyone slowly mad. These people are quite literally obsessed with winning the thing, but a combination of bad luck, dodgy dealings and just not being very good at horse-racing leaves them wanting year after year after year. It’s against this backdrop that we get to meet characters such as the stable-boy who seems ridiculously bitter for a man in his early 20s, and a batty old pensioner who – in one fantastic laugh-out-loud moment – manages to make an entire group of German tourists feel awkward with just one mention of the War.

The film kicks-off six weeks in advance of the latest Palio, leading us through the district’s rigid preparations and right up to the race itself, during which the locals are reduced to tears, before ritualistically kicking the crap out of one another seconds later when it’s all over. It makes for fascinating viewing, particularly as – from my own personal point of view – it focuses on people whose entire lives are consumed by the build-up to an event which up until seeing this film I’d never even heard of. What’s more, Civetta is a beautiful setting, with the tiny, picturesque streets of the town looking as if they could have been lifted straight out of a Dolmio ad.

Disappointing, though, is Appel’s approach to the material. He presents it as a snapshot in time rather than an historical essay. It means we get to learn little of the race’s ancient background, which could well explain why the locals’ frothing obsession with the race always feels more like it’s being presented as an object of fun than a serious attempt at teaching us about them. Also, the stench of race-fixing appears to hang permanently in the air, but Appel chooses only to hint at it rather than actually attempt to uncover anything. With or without any snooping though, it’s clear that there’s much more to the Palio than the director allows to meet the eye.

It's Got: Mention of another region which hasn’t won the race for FORTY-ONE years! So why isn’t the film about that lot instead?

It Needs: To be put in some sort of historical context – otherwise it’s all a bit meaningless.

DVD Extras A 20 minute ‘Making Of’ documentary, and a handful of out-takes. Edition Reviewed: The Last Victory [2004] (Amazon UK) DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

Palio (Alessandro Blasetti's 1932 romantic drama set around the same event).

Summary

If you think obsessive football fans are mental-cases you ain’t seen nothing yet, as this entertaining look at Italian fixation with a local horse race shows.

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