More than your standard documentary, Palio breathes like a spaghetti western and carries the same masculinity and drama as films like Rocky. Palio documents the events of the world’s oldest horse race which takes place twice a year in Siena, Italy. Every summer ten horses and riders race bareback around a track each representing one of Siena’s ten districts. Palio tells a classic story of the charming champion jockey, Gigi Bruschelli, as he attempts to gain his 14th and 15th victories at the Palio, to break the current world record. Gigi is shown to be the mastermind of races which have always been very open in their corruption, he is more than happy to use bribes to give himself the advantage. Alongside Gigi we also follow one of his old students, Giovani Atzeni. He is one of the youngest jockeys in the race, and a dreamer with a determination to win in a more honest way than the other riders.

What follows is a superb film by relatively new director Cosima Spender whose mastery of intense cinematography keeps the film moving and highlights the themes of glory, corruption, and legacy even through the slower moments of the film. Palio is all about high stakes intensity in a real setting and that is carried across beautifully by the soundtrack that borrows its songs from an Italian series called Secrets of the Sahara and Italian directed Il Mercenario. That any of these songs could just have easily have come from The Good the Bad and the Ugly is no bad thing, though it’s a shame none of the songs were original to the movie.

Finally, the most important part of any good sports drama or spaghetti western is of course the fight. For Palio it takes the form of the two races themselves. I was left clinging on to my seat as panning cameras tracked the racers charging around a track for 90 seconds. What made it all the more gripping was the knowledge that this isn’t a work of fiction, this is real life anything could happen. And it does. All in all Palio is a superb film that plays with narratives in a way not often seen in documentaries, and could be a real contender when the Oscar nominations are released. Who knows, it may very well walk away with the prize in the second most intense competition I’ll watch this season.

[su_pullquote]YES Palio uses the documentary style to tell an intense story. If you love films that put you on the edge of your seat, then this is for you.[/su_pullquote]