Holy Tour (La Grand-Messe, Belgium-France, 2018)

Nearly at the end of the road

The British (or is it the English?) like to think they have a distinct quirky humour (Monty Python for instance) which is probably a result of the fact that humour tends to be culture specific (unless it’s slapstick) and appreciation of other others’ funny bones is difficult. Certainly Holy Mountain counts as quirky: retired cycling fans spend a week waiting for the Tour de France (the 2017 edition) to whirl past them on the Col d’Izoard; 4km, or so, shy of the summit and finish line.

Such is the engagement of directors (Valéry Rosier and Méryl Fortunat-Rossi) with their subject that I spent the first few minutes unsure whether the film was fiction or documentary. The naturalness of the characters is such that the presence of the camera is almost certainly barely an impediment to their behaviour. This might be because the protagonists, to the extent they can be called as such, are old – at least 70s old I think – and really don’t care to make a positive impression. Maybe they were flattered that two young men wanted to film their lives. Of course, I’m not suggested that we are viewing unadulterated reality; that can never be the case in texts as they are, by necessity, mediated. In addition, the directors are credited as scriptwriters and they have moulded their footage as highly entertaining slices of lives.

The camera gets everywhere: the foot of an old couple’s bed as they say ‘goodnight’ to each other to a comically shot farmer cutting his field (all we can see is his bare torso moving through long grass). Rosier and Fortunat-Rossi have an eye for composition and often frame the characters in long shot so we see they’re simply lounging around waiting against the often stunningly beautiful landscape.

And when the tour does arrive, one of the characters watches the television to see if she can be seen on it rather than the race speeding past. She’s disappointed and concludes they should park on the other side of the road next year! There’s humour from the grumbling of the old folk as the young ‘drunken idiots’ arrive on the day of the race. When they crowd around a television in a mobile home to see the finish, minutes after the leaders have passed them, the broadcast signal – in true absurdist fashion – drops only to return after the race has ended.

Old folk are under represented in the media (at my age that’s starting to rankle!) and it’s good to see, even with all their ailments (bad knees and so on), a group of wrinklies having good natured good times.

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