Cosima Spender: Palio

Don’t miss out on the last screening of Cosima Spender’s Palio at CPH:DOX on Sunday November 15th. It is a feast for the eyes!

Il Palio is the world’s oldest horserace. It takes place at the famous Piazza del Campo in the heart of Sienna twice a year opposing the 17 rivalling districts of Sienna. However, the race is only a small part of the game. Behind it lays months of negotiations, strategy, bribery and treachery and days of ceremonies, rituals and parades. It’s about power and money, a form of legalised corruption and a game whose complexity of open and hidden rules have been forged over centuries. Described as absurd and dysfunctional by locals who yet participate in it with passion.

Anglo-Italian director Spender (who grew up close to Siena) focuses on the perspective of the jockeys. Not bound to a certain district or horse, they are the front pieces in the game. They are the gladiators and the Piazza the Coliseum. As much as the horses are adored, the jockeys are viewed upon with mistrust. Seen as mercenaries, traitors or even prostitutes, the celebration of the winner is only temporarily, the looser risks to get beaten up. It’s brutal; the only race in the world where the horse can win without the rider.

Two rivals: the old master Gigi who is about to break the record of most won races and the upcoming young outsider Giovanni. Two schools of thought: “either you go for strategies… or you go for the good horse”. They race with their lives at stake, riding bareback in medieval costumes and sneakers! And you just hold your breath… The race only lasts for about 90 seconds, but it seems like forever.

Slow motions, close-ups, big music (quite a bit of Ennio Morricone, of course!), even the interviews are shot with either a nervous tension or in a divine golden light with a magnificent Tuscan landscape in the background. Sounds like it’s too much? Not at all, nothing less could have done it! Done with the right mixture of humour and seriousness and with a clear respect for the subject and the characters, it’s an intelligent description of a fascinating social and cultural drama and its actors.

“Rocky on horseback” says The New York Times. Check out the trailer and I won’t have to say no more:

Palio won the award for best editing at this years Tribeca Film Festival. Does it have Danish distribution? I hope so, this is made for the big screen and so much better than half the action films out there.

Palio (UK/Italy, 2015, 91 min.) Official website:

Five big pen heads from me.

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Sara Thelle
Sara Thelle
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