If you’re looking to learn something about cycling or even just about people, you surely won’t find answers.
Somewhere near Montreal is a workspace where the finest steel frames are built for bicycles. Craftsman Giuseppe Marinoni has been making bikes in this shop for almost four decades. Before becoming a craftsman, Marinoni had built a legacy for himself as a champion cyclist in both Italy and Canada. It’s suggested that Marinoni is somewhat of a celebrity amongst cyclists, and he’s built frames for some of the best in their sport. Former Olympic cyclist Jocelyn Lovell was a friend of Marinoni’s, and loved his bikes. In the 1978 Commonwealth Games, Lovell won three gold medals in record times—this is perhaps Lovell’s greatest success, and it was achieved on a Marinoni bike.
After becoming a craftsman, Marinoni suggests that he quit riding for a while. He believes that in order to become a great builder of bikes, you can’t also spend your time riding them. He claims to have spent so much time in his workspace that when he returned to bike riding years later his sweat had become red like rust from the metal he works so closely with. Of course, this can’t possibly be true, but Marinoni says it with such an intense look in his eye you have no choice but to believe him.
Right from the start of the film, it’s very clear that Marinoni doesn’t enjoy having the camera around—he seems like a man who prefers solitude. For three years director Tony Girardin worked to convince Marinoni to let him make a documentary about his life and craft, but Marinoni didn’t agree to it until he decided to make a return to competitive cycling. As a result, Girardin’s documentary Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame charts Marinoni’s voyage back to his hometown in Northern Italy where he hopes to break a world record in cycling for his age group. Marinoni doesn’t do much opening up in this documentary, but you get the feeling that Marinoni sees the presence of a camera crew as extra motivation for his training. As for Girardin, I’m not so sure what his motivation was.
If director Tony Girardin did one thing right, it’s in choosing his subject—Marinoni is captivating to listen to and it saves a documentary from really failing on all accounts. Yes, Marinoni brings a certain fire to every frame, but it mostly goes unignited. This documentary seems to have been made by someone who is completely oblivious to his subject matter. Marinoini’s rich history with cycling is left mostly unexplored, and the film goes to no efforts to teach you anything about the sport. Sure, there are a lot of random people talking vaguely about how much they value their Marinoni bikes, but I still feel totally clueless as to why these bikes are so special. Does Girardin even have a clue? It really doesn’t seem like it.
Elsewhere, I found myself lamenting the fact that we didn’t explore the relationship between Lovell and Marinoni more deeply. Why does Marinoni like bikes so much anyway? How does that question not even get answered?! To me, what’s even more offensive than an under-researched documentary is the sheer lack of sensitivity Girardin brings to understanding his subject. There are several scenes where we watch Girardin show off an app on his phone that translates English into Italian much to the amusement of Girardin, Marinoni, and no one else. There’s another moment when Marinoni and his wife are walking around some sort of bike expo, and you hear Girardin cheering from behind the camera that the old couple should hold hands. Even as a viewer, I’m aware that Marinoni is not at all the type to do something like that. What was the point in including that scene anyway? Was it supposed to be funny or something? If nothing else, that scene just further suggests how terrible of an interviewer Tony Girardin is. All these unanswered questions and missed opportunities result in something that feels more like a home movie than a documentary. If you’re looking to learn something about cycling or even just about people, you surely won’t find answers. | Cait Lore
Marinoni: A Fire in the Frame will be screened at 8:00 p.m. on July 7 and 8 at the Winifred Moore Auditorium at Webster University (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty and are free for Webster University students with proper ID. Further information about tickets is available here and the film series calendar is available here.