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


Friday, 11 January 2019

Dilili in Paris (Michel Ocelot, 2018)

For many years, director Michel Ocelot has been the go-to guy for sumptious, intelligent animation.  His immaculate feature films always make for a nice alternative for families with younger children, and their soothing ambience is a far cry from the loud and garish cartoons which are so often found in the multiplex.  Ocelot's films carry a most distinctive style, and, while Dilili in Paris is immediately identifiable as being the work of the director, there's quite a stylistic departure in place as his unmistakable 2D characters are placed in front of photographic backgrounds.  This novel approach works remarkably well, with the backgrounds greatly contributing to the wonderful atmosphere created by this engaging, humorous, yet occasionally troubling work.

Set during the Belle Époque, the film sees the Dilili of the title arrive in Paris from New Caledonia.  This young, impeccably mannered Kanak girl cheerfully takes in the sights and sounds of the City of Light, encountering casual racism and a galaxy of famous names as she gets involved in some sleuthing.  The mystery she's trying to solve regards a spate of kidnapping which is occurring in the city; there is a pattern in that all the victims are female, and it must be said that this premise is a dark one for any film, let alone a family one.  Thankfully, Ocelot's deft handling of this potentially very upsetting subject matter ensures that any little ones watching shouldn't find anything too traumatic in what unfolds.  As she attempts to find those responsible, Dilili has a helpful sidekick, Orel, who holds an impressive list of contacts that can only be described as a Who's Who of the Paris of the time.  Through Orel, Dilili encounters the likes of Bernhardt, Pasteur, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, Satie, Curie and Claudel - and that's by no means an exhaustive list of those who pop up during the course of the film.  You will have noticed that these important historical characters include a number of successful, pioneering women, which turns out to be very relevant once Dilili and Orel discover the thinking behind the crimes.

Dilili in Paris manages to be both a charming, intoxicating walk around Belle Époque Paris and a commentary on some very contemporary issues.  Despite being an animated work, it's one of the most atmospheric recreations of Paris seen on film for some years, and Ocelot brilliantly conjures a city many of us know and an era which remains endlessly fascinating.  While it makes for fine entertainment, the film also possesses huge educational potential, with its countless figures from history providing many jumping-off points for discussions on the important developments which occurred during the French Third Republic; any one of the featured luminaries would make for a substantial school project.  However, first and foremost, and despite its slightly sinister edge (which is nothing unusual for Ocelot), Dilili in Paris is a wonderful slice of escapism from a director who rarely, if ever, lets us down.

Darren Arnold