August 22, 2017

A Sicilian Dream – historic car racing documentary

Recently premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, A Sicilian Dream features Francesco da Mosto and Alain de Cadenet exploring the history of the Targa Florio, a Sicilian car race that started in 1906. Historic car racing isn’t standard fare for British cinemas, so it was exciting for an aficionado to head out to see Philip Walsh’s film on the big screen.

The Targa Florio was a mad road race around the twisting roads of Sicily – so long that a driver once had to stop for a sleep. The course was on open roads, which hadn’t been shut for the event. Peasants who had never seen such fast cars were a hazard, along with animals and trailers. A modern survivor of this type of racing, albeit for motorbikes, is the Isle of Man TT – but at the Florio no one stopped people walking on the track during the race. And no one knew when the cars were coming. Drivers had to hide canisters of petrol around the track so that they could refuel.

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There is little footage of the racing until the Seventies. A few photos of early races are shown, along with images of cars arriving by boat. There are reconstructions, where men dressed as very clean peasants help drivers who have broken down. A linen-suited Vincenzo Florio races his motor trike and argues with his father. Five historic cars appear to have been taken to Sicily to recreate the race. But there are not enough wide shots for the viewer to enjoy them. When the cars are shown the shots are very often close-ups of the drivers.  The two presenters drive some of the route in an historic Alfa, but historic car lovers will be slightly disappointed. The cars don’t feature as much as you would expect. Instead the film has many interviews between da Mosto and Sicilians who remember the race or are related to people who were involved.

de Cadenet provides insight into why drivers race, recounts his horrifying crash at the Targa Florio and meets the son of the man who dragged him from his car. The general message is that the Targa existed, got too dangerous, and now doesn’t exist. By 1977 the cars had became too quick for the Sicilian roads and there were too many deaths of drivers and spectators.

The film lacks focus. In particular it starts and ends with some unnecessary stuff about da Mosto getting in touch with his Sicilian side. The film should have skipped the close-ups of eyes, cigarette smoke and Venice, headed straight to Sicily and focused more on the cars.

Nevertheless, seeing historic cars is always a treat and the race clearly lives on in the mythology of Sicily.

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