The esteemed Louis Malle spent his career alternating between features and documentaries; the latter often brought him a much-needed respite from fictional projects, by enabling him to shoot cinema direct footage in a "hands-on" manner - acting as a refresher and renewing his interest in filmmaking. Vive le Tour constitutes a relatively minor work in Malle's catalogue but is skillfully made and quite enjoyable. For a number of days in July 1962, Malle and his crew (Ghislain Cloquet, Jacques Ertaud and others) travel to the Tour de France bicycle race and film a series of inclusive spectacles. The overall mood is jovial and bouncy - the film shot in bright rotogravure colors, with a peppy Georges Delerue score - but Malle continually varies the overtone of the picture depending on the spectacle at hand, interweaving notes of ebullience, whimsy, jet black humor, awe and unspeakable tragedy. The covered events include: two riders sharing a fudgesicle as they race; a number of cyclists pilfering food from local shops; one rider growing ill from "fish that was not fresh, eaten the night before," and - on a heartbreaking note - a rider who falls and cracks his head open, presumably unaware of the extent of his injury and complaining constantly, "put something on my head, my head is cold." Most of all, Malle underscores, with great admiration and astonishment, the grueling physical exhaustion that the race exacts from even the most seasoned riders. Vive le Tour is a worshipful documentary of a sport made by a man who knew it intimately and loved it: next to filmmaking, cycling was Louis Malle's second great lifelong passion.
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