Wednesday 13 February 2019

Holy Tour (Méryl Fortunat-Rossi / Valéry Rosier, 2018)

More than a decade ago, I walked just a few short steps from my house to watch the Tour de France go by at the end of the street.  Having no interest whatsoever in cycling, I found the event to be surprisingly enjoyable, and it took just a matter of minutes out of my day.  While I'm glad I made the minimal effort required to glimpse the peloton, I really can't comprehend why people would camp out by the roadside for a couple of weeks or so to witness the same spectacle.  I'm aware that the subjects of Belgian documentary Holy Tour are looking to make a bigger holiday out of the event, and it's probably fair to say it's not all about the Tour for them, but their devotion and obsession with the race is something to which I can't relate.  But to each their own, and, for all my lack of interest in the sport, Holy Tour proves to be generally tolerable.

The documentary's two directors appear to share my indifference towards the race, as the film is not so much about the Tour de France as it is about its followers - specifically, those who pick a spot in their campervans where they can while away the days before the cyclists flash past.  In Holy Tour's case, such fans are almost invariably of retirement age (so time off from work is obviously not a complication), and most are married couples.  As such, there are the expected conversations and minor squabbles, and a lot of time is spent scrambling for a signal of any kind so the race's progress can be tracked.  Many of the people featured here hope to be glimpsed on TV once the Tour gets to where they're camped, and you can fully understand the frustration of someone who, having built an entire holiday around a few seconds of an event, has their view obscured by inconsiderate types once the critical moment arrives.  Parisians, it should be noted, do not come out of this very well.

The people featured here are quite hard to warm to at first, but as the film progresses these subjects become much more relatable and appealing; the film takes an upturn once the conversations open up to include things other than the Tour.  It's never riveting, but it's also never dull, either, and the film's brevity is very much a plus point.  There is one very dark development which occurs, and while it seems rather out of place in the context of this otherwise quirky film, it does much to engender sympathy for the party involved.  At its core, the film is very human, even if it's not terribly exciting.

While audiences may or may not be drawn to Holy Tour on account of their level of interest regarding the Tour de France, it's actually a film which, in terms of identity, balances itself on a knife-edge: it's a documentary about the event which features little footage of the actual race, and as such it may prove disappointing to the cycling fans who've paid for admission.  On the other hand, those who enjoy a good fly-on-the-wall documentary may well be put off by what looks like a sports film; it's certainly a tricky one to market, and whoever has the job of selling this has an unenviable task.  As documentaries go, Holy Tour is closer to lanterne rouge than it is to maillot jaune, yet it has just enough about it to make for a cautious recommendation.

Darren Arnold