Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy
Sport is so often a vessel for the over-romanticisation of the narrative between individuals of bloated renown. It can be difficult to determine what is true, what is overblown or how competitors truly felt towards one another throughout their rivalry.
Sky documentary Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy, explores what is in fact a series of tragedies that unfolded during Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi’s tenure as drivers together for the Ferrari Formula One team in the early 80s. It does so without gloss or censure, but with a generous dollop of fantastical, mythic description and speculation. It may be dicey to point the “You’ve overdone it” finger at a piece that tells a true story of heartbreaking death, but this film really has contrived angles that just don’t seem to be there. It seems like the talking heads who feature – among them a well-sought company of the most interesting people who could be questioned on the subject – have been asked a few too many leading questions.
That is not to say that it isn’t sensitive to the memory of the two men and so many others who shared their fate in the particularly dangerous years of a particularly dangerous sport – far from it. The emotion brought about by this documentary is its great strength. It is paced beautifully, comes to an ideal length for the breadth of its subject and, to the viewer unfamiliar with the story it tells, introduces details with emotive poise. It’s gritty: the viewer watches death as well as its fallout and it is, at moments, hard to stomach for both reasons.
The archive of relevant footage is vast (of course, given that it concerns top-level sport of the last few decades) and it is thoroughly mined for still and moving images aplenty. There is no repeated footage, though there is some curious establishing material of some nondescript tarmac flying by or grasses in the wind that, though it may well have been produced specifically for this project, has the air of unnecessary stock imagery, cheapening the final product.
Though it carves more drama out of the situation than it ought to, Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy has a lot to give to the viewer. It is highly charged and packed with fascinating footage, information and individuals’ opinions, and it is a tactful telling of a truly tragic tale.
Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy is released on Sky Documentaries on 18th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy here: