The Palio di Siena is like no other horse race. The visually stunning documentary Palio puts the viewer ringside to this 90 second race where bareback riders gallop around the village square, the Piazza del Campo in Siena, to win honor for one of the ten Italian districts. An elaborate pageant precedes the annual race held twice a summer where thousands come from all over the world to the festivities. The race which dates back to the 1400s is a passionate political affair as well where deals are struck, and jockeying for position is not only about the best starting position and fastest horse but alliances. The dangerous treck is riveting for the crowds, with agony and ecstasy for the jockeys side by side. The film chronicles the legendary Gigi Bruscheli, winner of 13 races and his young protégé Giovanni. For the jockeys, winning makes you a national hero and losing means you need a police escort to protect you from angry local mobs. Even the horses are blessed in church. Filmmaker Cosima Spender with co-screenwriter John Hunt creates a cinematic tour de force of the race, the personalities, and the ancient city of Siena.
Spender grew up in the area and felt her background and perfect local accent helped earn her the trust of the film’s subjects. All her research before she even picked up the camera also established her relationships. “I really set out to tell a human story,” she notes. The horse plays a major role but unique in this case as horse and rider do not necessarily train together. Spender explains, “The horses are allotted by luck. You or the district don’t have a horse you’re training year round. You get the horse four days before. The moment you get your horse allotted by luck you have to evaluate.” Even if the jockey falls off, the unmounted horse can still win the race. “The animal is so important,” states Spender. “A horse without a rider can win – where else would you get that?” With multiple cameras, the race is captured in all its glory. “We had a great production behind us and extra cameras on the day at strategic points,” she says, “We had the approval of the locals and they film every year with 7 cameras and gave us access which made it even more comprehensive.” Audiences are on the edge of their seats. “We edited it like an action film,” she explains.
In the end she sums up the Palio, “It’s politics and also luck… Just like life.”
Palio will be released in theatres November 6th and also will be available world wide on iTunes on November 6th.
For more information please visit www.thepalio.com
© Guillaume Bonn