Horsés for corses

A new documentary feature details the trials and tribulations of the 2003 Siena’s Palio, Italy’s maddest horse race. Jason Best meets the film’s director JOHN APPEL.

he passion inspired by a Rangers-Celtic derby seems puny compared with the fervour aroused by Siena’s Palio. I‘ve been attending this bareback horserace held each summer in the city‘s main piazza since the l98()s and I‘m still astonished

by the emotions the event stirs. The race. three laps of

Siena's undulating. scallop-shaped (‘ampo. lasts ()0 seconds rather than football's ()0 minutes. but the excitement it generates lasts all year long.

That's what Dutch filmmaker John Appel (inset) discovered when he trained his camera in 2003 on the inhabitants of one of the 17 districts known as contrade that make up the city. Iiach district is akin to an independent city-state and its inhabitants are notoriously close-knit. but Appel was fortunate to gain the cooperation of Siena‘s smallest contrada. (‘ivetta (the Italian for ‘owl’) to make his film The Last Victory.

‘I was very lucky to find (‘ivcttaf he says. ‘They hadn’t won for a long time. which made for good drama. And they didn’t mind being filmed. The last time they won. in I979. someone recorded the day on 8mm film and they had the superstitious belief that they could win once more if they were filmed again.‘

Superstition plays a big part in the Palio. ln Appel‘s film. contradaioli (inhabitants of the contrada) invoke the goddess Fortuna and offer prayers to the Virgin Mary to implore victory. (‘hristianity and paganism sit happily side by side in the run up to the two Palios held in Siena every summer. the first on 2 July. the second on 16 August.

The Palio has been raced in Siena since at least the 13th century and its medieval origins are still apparent. not least in the intense rivalries between the competing contrade. Almost every contrada has a traditional enemy Civetta‘s foe is neighbouring Leocorno (unicorn) and the mutual animosity often dates back centuries. Contrade also have venerable allies.

12 THE LIST 5-12 Aug 2004


These rivalries and alliances underpin the furious wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes at every Palio. In the days leading tip to the race. the capitano (captain) of each competing contrada conducts a series of secret deals known as ‘partiti‘. Understandably. Appel’s camera was not present during these transactions. but they nonetheless fascinated the director.

‘The most astonishing aspect to me was the amount of money involved in the partiti.’ he says. ‘I tried to get information about how much. From a reliable person I heard it's in millions ofeuros.

‘No one suggests the l’alio is totally fair play. In that respect. typical Italian politics is rife in Siena. even in (‘ivetta. You can compare (‘ivetta’s capitano with Berlusconi. Both of them have been elected democratically. but secret deals play an important part in their working methods.’

The partiti may influence the outcome of the Palio but they cannot guarantee it. The contrade are free to secure the services of a top fantino (jockey). but they are allocated their horse by lot only days before the race. And during the race itself anything can happen. The l’antini ride without saddles or stirrups and often fall off. Yet a riderless horse can still win. as happened in the July l’alio earlier this summer.

In the aftermath of the race. scuffles frequently break out. At the climax of Appel’s film. there's an almighty punch-up between the (‘ivetta and Leocorno contradaioli. Appel‘s own cameraman became collateral damage.

‘lle was hit and couldn‘t continue filmingf Appel reveals. ‘They didn‘t want the fight to be filmed.’

Bill Shankley famously said: ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much. much more important than that.‘ Now there’s someone who would have understood the I’alio.

The Last Victory is out on selected release from Fri 6 Aug.


Film news from Bollywood to Brigadoon . . .

Does God Play Football?

FRINGE THEATRE, LIKE WHO cares? But you would be a fool to miss 5065 Lift at this year’s Festival Fringe. 5065 Lift and the Script Factory have announced the three programmes of shorts, comprising 12 film productions, to run on alternating days, all written by members of the Script Factory’s Writers Group. Among others the films star Ricky Tomlinson, Jarvis Cocker, Kevin McKidd in Does God Play Football? and Jason Flemyng. The 5065 Lift is the smallest authentic cinema at the Fringe, with five traditional flip down cinema seats, a red carpet and an usher. How cool is that? Lift in the Pleasance Courtyard. 4-30 Aug, 13.30 [14.00] Tickets Fringe 0131 226 GOOD/Pleasance 0131 556 6550. Visit www.5065.co.uk for more information. Visit www.scriptfactory.co.uk for details of this excellent organisation.

CHANNEL 4'8 ANNUAL SEASON of Bollywood films is about to kick off again do not miss these occasionally wondrous films. This season will focus in part on the movies of Shah Rukh Khan. ROUGH CUTS HAS GOT goodies for you. Lars Von Triers’ superb tale of madness and strangeness in a small pioneer town, Dogville is out on DVD and we have five copies to give away. To enter, just send an email marked ‘DOGVILLE’ to promotions@ Iist.co.uk or a postcard to The List, 14 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TE by no later than 13 August 2004. Please include a postal address. Dogville is out to rent on VHS and DVD and own on a DVD (RRP £15.99). Usual List rules apply.

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