Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist
An artfully-constructed sport doc that fails to find its focus
The death of Italian road race champion Marco Pantani in 2004 was a key moment in the history of cycling; a folk hero to millions, Pantani was a troubled individual who styled himself as ‘the pirate’ but ended up being hounded from the sport he loved by accusations of doping. The subsequent revelation of widespread drug use by Lance Armstrong, pictured competing with Pantani in the opening scenes of James Erskine’s documentary, throws a fresh light on the subject; when many cyclists were being chemically assisted, why was Pantani singled out?
Erskine’s film doesn’t quite get to grips with the answer; Pantani’s mother alludes to the notion of a ‘mafia’ who controlled the sport, but this documentary never focuses its anger on specific individuals. Instead, a mixture of cycling footage, reconstructions and interviews artfully piece together the story of a boy obsessed with being the best of the best. As a winner of the Giro d’Italia as well as the Tour de France, Pantani certainly made good on his boyhood potential, but falling foul of the authorities led to a downward spiral of failed comebacks and an eventual death due to cocaine poisoning.
Taking the style of Asif Kapadia’s popular Senna super-doc about motor-racing, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist is fuelled by an underlying anger about how an individual can be manipulated by corrupt officials, but stops short of laying a punch. But unlike Kapadia’s film, there’s not quite enough compelling visual material to justify feature length. The problem is that Pantani, whatever his gifts, was at least partly responsible for his own downfall; Erskine’s documentary requires a few less shots of misty mountain roads and more specific investigation of the detail of Pantani’s fall from grace.
Limited release from Fri 16 May.