Overcoming   –    rated    –   TEPID

This documentary from Denmark is about the 2004 Tour de France, which we all know was won by Lance Armstrong  (then with the US Postal Team).  I love watching the Tour de France.   So I thought I'd love any film about it.  I have not yet seen Hell on Wheels (2004, Danquart & Schweizer).  That film was about the 2003 Tour de France.  But I have it on DVD and am about to watch it.  I hope it is better than Overcoming.

Overcoming starts badly.  It is confused, unclear and busy – too busy.  There is extensive use of graphics, and they are badly used.  They are simply dreadful: random words, randomly printed in mixed all caps and lowercase, boldface and roman.  Combine this with the extensive subtitles (the team speaks about a half a dozen different languages between them), and the voices, and it is all too much to take in at once.  It's as if it was all done on PowerPoint!  And yet the directpr, Tomas Gislason is an editor who has worked on many important films, including those of Lars von Trier.

Apart from the coach, Bjarne Riis, the main characters  – the cyclists from the Danish Team  CSC – are not well introduced. As if to emphasise this, or to cope with the deficiency, labels pop up next to each cyclist whenever they appear.  The soundtrack is too loud on the whole, but vthe sound level also varies wildly.  There is the obligatory quick cutting style, sometimes used to the point of incoherence  there are too many extreme closeups at a time, and too much repetition.  The narrative is all over the place.  I follow the Tour closely and know many of these names, but even I was confused.  All these techniques are used so manically that to me the film seems to scream "Look at me!  I'm a director! See my technique!" To me, it smacks of insecurity. 

To compound things some of the translations are bad – they're not grammatically correct. So many things are not explained: the film is about Team CSC, but the film doesn't tell us what it stands for. Why are the cyclists jumping into a well at night?  When did they go on the 35 hr survival camp.  It seems like it was on a rest day from the Tour.  Surely that couldn't be! When team member Michele Bartoli breaks an arm, not told why.

The film is at its best when it is dealing with emotional issues.  These men are not communicating well.  Clearly the coach, Bjarne, needs a little silence & space.  Come to think about it, so does the audience.  Just as I was noting this at the screening, the film moves to the massage table, and it is like an oasis! There's a lovely sequence when Ole, the "body therapist", has a bit of a psychological session with star cyclist Carlos Sastre.  There's also a very moving sequence when the brilliant Ivan Basso finds his mother has cancer and is going in for chemotherapy in a few days.  He has to decide whether to continue.  The team back his decision to the hilt.

The best action section deals with a nightmare crash that occurs when Bobby Julich is in the lead, and is picking up some water from the support car.  At least there is some sort of chronological order in that section of the film, unlike most of the rest.

The worst part is the ending.  There's no climax at the end of the race.  It is sort of skipped over – at one point I thought it was going to be left out!  And then there is a misguided "Epilogue" which introduces another story about the retirement of team member Michele Bartoli.  This throws the rhythm of the film out completely.

People who don't know much about the Tour de France won't know too much maore after seeing this film.  Even afficionados will be confused.  The material is interesting, but not well-assembled.  And I found the editing and the whole style of the film annoying.  To me, it was a misuse of good material.