Film Review: The Racer

Directed by former pro cyclist Kenneth Mercken, The Racer is an intimate, human, and starkly beautiful take on the world of competitive cycling which remains honest about the realities of the sport.

Sports films generally make me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t think they get it.

To put it more clearly, I don’t think they portray sport in a way that’s meaningful to me. It seems like we’re always stuck with a standard biopic of some polished celebrity, interspersed with flashy shots of whatever their sport is. I don’t compete to be a champion. I do it for its own sake. The drive to train, to race, and to push myself to the point of drooling is something a bit more innate. Even without the carrot of a seventh Tour victory, I’ll probably be getting on the turbo tomorrow.

That’s where sport really gets interesting. The act of pushing your own limits, just because they’re there. Just because you think you can stretch them, or they might surpass the point where you expected to find them. Human nature examining itself.

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The Racer follows a Belgian Espoir (that’s a rider aged 19-22, you heathen) into the world of low-level professional cycling in the not-too-distant past, exposing many of the darker sides of competitive sports. It’s not a feel-good film, and it’s certainly not glorifying ‘the athlete’ as some kind of rarefied other species. In fact, the cycling itself takes a back seat throughout.

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Felix Vereecke, our protagonist, is absolutely human. Young, naïve, stupid, and caught in the middle of his family and the business of sport. His dedication to training is presented as unsettling, not inspiring, and the fast pace at which events spill out through the story leads to us empathising with him rapidly becoming trapped in a lifestyle and losing control of his own agency. There are moments of extreme darkness and discomfort, and our reward isn’t some kind of cathartic championship win.

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So what is the reward? In spite of the relatively short (around 90mins) runtime, the film often gives breathing space to the cinematography, giving a beauty to the sport, the surroundings, and, most importantly, the people. Often this is a tragic beauty, but the intimate storytelling, believable interactions, and excellent visuals create a truly magnetic effect.

The Racer shows cycling for what it really is. Complex, problematic, and tragic. Touching, primal, and desperately human. It’s a deeply personal take on the sport, but also on the nature of our obsessions, our relationships, and of the relationships between fathers and sons.

This film will be released for download on iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, and Google Play on November 4th.

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