Documentary cinema has changed in the last decade. Gone are the crisp wide shots, and the slow pans that drink in the world. Gone, too, are the clear monotonic commentaries and purposeful subtitles. All has been swept aside, and I feel like I’m coughing and gagging in a dusty gutter, wondering to myself how did I get old so fast?
Overcoming is a hyper-modern, confusing visual assault, and if I didn’t have a half-decent knowledge of the Tour de France I would’ve been dropped by the peloton in the first kilometre. The narrative (I use the term in the vaguest sense) dwells upon the CSC Cycling team’s challenge in the 2004 Tour.
CSC is owned by Bjarne Riis, one of four men lucky enough to win the race between the epochs dominated by the formidable Miguel Indurain and six-time champ Lance Armstrong. I tell you this because the chronologically-challenged imagery and entropic, interlaced text that dominates the screen will confuse the hell out of any non-cyclists, and probably trigger a few epileptic seizures as well.
It’s not that Overcoming is an incoherent film, in fact, despite its schizophrenic nature, it held my attention to the finish. We meet the impressive young cyclist Ivan Basso, and get privileged access to his discussions with stony faced Riis, the pair of them trying in their own ways to conquer the Tour. We follow nine riders, machines who seem to do nothing but bike and eat and hurt. The whole circus is dizzying but captivating.
Overcoming is the quest for a dream and, as with all quests, there are trials and tests. There is bitterness and loss, and a lot less glory than the team expects. If it weren’t for their strangely comforting masseur and psychologist I think team CSC would’ve broken long before their duel with the Pyrenees.
The Danish filmmakers have chosen an admirable topic of investigation but they have a lot to learn about control and subtlety in documentary. The lesson is, sweaty, skinny guys with iron thighs grinding their way to glory in some of the toughest racing on earth – very good. Shonky TV 3 staccato editing, visual and temporal distortion and jerky on-screen essays – nauseating.
Directed by Tomas Gislason