The Palio di Sien seems to take place in another time to our own. From the brightly coloured costumes to the local tribalism, this sheer adrenaline rush taps into something deeply primal. This documentary explores this culturally rich horse race which takes place biannually in the gorgeously preserved Tuscan city of Sienna. It’s so much more than just a horse race. With local pride at stake, it becomes a game of wits and riches, with open corruption fuelling it with passion, disloyalty and violence. But why is a story that sounds so innately cinematic so underwhelming?
Palio is a strangely polished and superficial film. It doesn’t get into the dirt of the deaths and injuries that must be caused by this intense ritual. It talks around the edges of the corruption that exists, an open secret, but doesn’t explore these salacious, ancient back alleys of Sienna that we’re desperate to hear more about. The race footage is furious and insane, but it’s hard to understand what drives these fearless, mercenary jockeys. Money and a general ‘love’ for the Palio doesn’t amount to particularly interesting characters. It has the ingredients of incredibly interesting subject matter but it just assumes that audiences understand these local dynamics, instead focusing on the races themselves which amounts to something disappointingly repetitive. At least the city of Sienna looks absolutely stunning and somewhere I think we’d all love to visit, but it doesn’t make you desperate to book for Palio season.
Review by David Rank
Palio is out now in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 104 mins.