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The Last Victory

Director: John Appel

Netherlands| 2004. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo. 88 mins.


No other sporting event lasting 80 seconds is invested with as much ecstasy and pain as Italy’s Palio, the world-famous horse race held in the Tuscan town of Siena that’s the subject of director John Appel’s insightful documentary The Last Victory. Now in its 721st year, the race defines how Sienese
view themselves. The town is divided into small districts called contrade, which race against each other in the historic public square every summer. Citizens are indoctrinated from birth in the patriotic fervour of their contrada, and winning the Palio crowns their sense of self-worth. Appel concentrates on the residents of Civetta, which hasn’t won the race for 23 years.
Horses are chosen by lottery, and when Civetta draws a prize animal, their dreams of recapturing the title seem within reach. Ninety-two-year-old Egidio thinks of nothing else, and neither do youngsters who recite past victories. The camera team was awarded unusually privileged access, and there’s plenty of nail-biting all around in this handsomely made production. Although the race itself, with its colourful spectacle of costumes and rituals, is well filmed by Appel and his team (there is also some truly spectacular archive footage of past events), the filmmakers are more concerned with capturing the human passions and intrigues that make the Palio such an extraordinary event. This is a moving film about the hopes, the intrigues and the fluctuating fortunes of a small Italian community. It reflects the different layers of Italian society: its traditions, its religion, its politics and its love of sport.

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