This documentary follows the Danish Team CSC and its coach, Bjarne Riis through the world's premier cycling event, the Tour de France, in 2004. Over this period several of the team members face personal trauma - including the illness and death of family members - while Riis, a passionate but reserved man, has his own private issues to wrestle with.
Review by Jake Wilson:
"This is pretty much the only Tour de France documentary you'll ever need," I wrote in my review of the recent Hell on Wheels. Still, that hasn't stopped the director Tomas Gilason (a sometime collaborator of Lars von Trier) from going back to the well. Like its predecessor, Overcoming views the race basically as a test of existential strength, men pushing themselves to the limits, if only for the sake of the struggle. But where Hell on Wheels aimed to present the race from every possible angle, Gilason mainly sticks to the behind-the-scenes point of view of one set of competitors: training, logistics, and the often mundane details of life on the road.
If the film has a centre, it's the portrait of the Danish coach Bjarne Riis: not a "character" in any larger-than-life sense, just a balding, stolid guy with a lot on his mind. As Gilason portrays him, Riis is oppressed not only by the usual problems of any coach - injuries, media controversies, the personal dramas faced by the team - but also a less tangible sense of anomie; slumped in a hotel room, or standing alone on the empty track, he broods like cycling's Bill Murray. Viewing himself as a general in command of troops (or perhaps a filmmaker on set) he's weighed down by a sense of responsibility, and helpless in his dependence on those he commands.
The moody, even sombre vibe of the best scenes in Overcoming sits oddly with a tricky, hyperactive style which suggests Gilason and his collaborators reworked their material endlessly in post-production: slow and fast motion, bursts of static and lap-dissolves, screens within the screen. Ultimately a lot of the excitement feels superficial, imposed on the material: what looks thrilling from a distance proves in close-up to be the grind of hard work and inevitable partial failure. Given this, I wonder if Gilason might have done better with something closer to Frederick Wiseman's long-take, observational method - though this would be even less likely to gratify fans of cycling.
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CAST: Documentary with Michelle Bartoli, Ivan Basso, B.S. Christiansen, Ole Kaare Føli, Brian Nygaard, Andrea Peron, Bjarne Riis
PRODUCER: Stine Boe Jensen, Mikael Rieks
DIRECTOR: Tomas Gislason
SCRIPT: Tomas Gislason
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mads Thomsen
EDITOR: Morten Højbjerg
MUSIC: Tobias Marberger
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Aztec International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Adelaide/Melbourne: January 20, 2006; Canberra: January 26, 2006; Brisbane: February 2, 2006; Perth/Sydney: February 9, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Aztec International
VIDEO RELEASE: March 15, 2006