The new Sky Original documentary “Villeneuve Pironi” takes viewers into the competitive circus of Formula One, focusing on the intense rivalry between drivers Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve. While the film has more flaws than virtues, it manages to highlight the passion and consequences that come with the pursuit of victory.
Unfortunately, director Torquil Jones [14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible] does not have a solid opening to his movie (spoiler alert: he has no real ending either). At the very beginning, viewers are thrown into a narrative that frantically jumps between stories and characters. Additionally, the constant pushing of poeticism feels unnatural and adds little value or depth to the overall story. I understand that as a child, Jacques Villeneuve used to climb trees to watch his father drive, that is a nice little anecdote. But do we need to see twenty-five different close-ups of trees? Does that make us more immersed in the story?
I am afraid, troubles don’t stop there. “Villeneuve Pironi” suffers from issues with sound mixing, often abruptly cutting off interviews or introducing random snippets of footage or voiceovers. This disjointed approach creates distractions and prevents the anecdotes from flowing naturally. Testimonies are often cut short, leaving viewers longing for more depth and personal connection with the individuals sharing their experiences. The first appearance of Jackie Stewart or Alan Jones are really out of the blue. A story told by Alan Prost was completely cut out, but his last sentence and reaction to it were left in. These choices lead to momentary confusion in the viewer. More work on linking stories, events and timelines would have been very beneficial.
The characters portrayed in the film are often overly simplified. Didier is presented as a rich womanizer with no faith in destiny and a penchant for analysis, while Gilles is depicted as a passionate, intelligent individual who has little time for his family. However, these portrayals fall short of capturing the complexities and depths of these two immense drivers. Even though I am not lucky enough to have known either of the drivers, I firmly believe there was much more to them. There is much more to any human being.
Despite these shortcomings, the documentary semi-effectively portrays the deterioration of the friendship between Didier and Gilles as their rivalry intensified. The arc of their big fellout in Imola, 1982 is well-constructed. The tension nicely rises as the two giants have their first overly aggressive on-track duel and personal conflict.
Undoubtedly, the film truly shines when it explores the untold stories of the women behind these legendary drivers. The emotional suffering and trauma they experienced, from complicated pregnancies to raising children without their fathers, adds a poignant layer to the narrative. Actually, those stories deserve further exploration and could easily form the basis of a separate film.
While “Villeneuve Pironi” lacks a well-constructed conclusion, the last 15 minutes offer a glimpse into the aftermath of intense rivalries like the one in the center. The focus on the children and spouses of the drivers brings forth the lasting impact of their meteor-like careers on their loved ones. It raises important questions about coping with loss, adapting to a new way of life, and the transmission of passion from one generation to the next. The rivalry itself stands as an important story on the dangers of unresolved conflicts, vengeful acts and bitterness.
“Villeneuve Pironi” might fall short in delivering a cohesive and immersive storytelling experience. However, it successfully conveys the high stakes, jaw dropping dangers, and rivalries that defined the era of Formula One racing in the 1970s and 1980s.
Watch “Villeneuve Pironi” streaming on Now TV.
~ by Dora Endre ~