Journey to Le Mans
Le Mans is a prestigious motor race that deserves a solid documentary. It’s a long-standing endurance test that requires gritty drivers and an unwavering crew of mechanics and engineers to perform exceptionally for 24 continuous hours. Its nocturnal sections alone are potential goldmines for documentary filmmakers to tackle the subject in depth, while maintaining a rich atmosphere haunted by the grind and trepidation involved.
Unfortunately, first-time director Charlotte Fantelli appears to be more focused on creating a team bio of the race team, Jota, than engaging with Le Mans mythos. Interviews with the men at the heart of it largely involve cursory, question-free sound bites, devoid of charm or insight. If petrolheads are hoping for anything approaching a general analysis of car mechanics and pit crew dynamics, they’ll be thoroughly left wanting.
Fantelli completely drops the ball, however, when it comes to presentation. The ridiculously bombastic tone of her narrator of choice, Patrick Stewart (yes, of Star Trek and X-Men fame), is bemusing. Her written flair for rhetorical silliness only compounds the problem. Stewart channels Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings-style – strained, grandiose metaphors included. Choice of music is heavy-handed and bizarre, with sugary pop and jingoistic classical used throughout. Visually, the film feels flat and unremarkable, with too many quick cuts during racing; excessive slow-motion reduces its overall force when it’s actually needed.
Journey to Le Mans‘ one redeeming feature is an unintentionally amusing character study of the self-assured owner of team Jota, Simon Dolan. From the outset, it’s clear that Dolan’s ego is maintained by its own ecosystem. His (very smug) ascension as an accountant means he’s now a resident of Monaco by way of Hemel Hempstead. In a rare moment of self-awareness, he jokingly admits buying flashier cars than his neighbour is tougher since the move.
Dolan’s place in the team is not one of merit. He comes off the track three times in total, and it dawns on the viewer that the rest of the team – a former Le Mans champion and maverick youngster – pick up much of the slack. Like Fantelli, Dolan has succeeded in previous endeavours (she is an entrepreneur and magazine editor), but the signs, here, are bad. Ultimately, due to a number of puzzling decisions, the documentary straddles an unenviable fence: it’s not entertaining enough for a layman, while lacking depth for serious motor sport fans.
Journey to Le Mans was released on DVD and Blueray on 24th November 2014.
Watch the trailer for Journey to Le Mans here: