Vive le Tour is a short documentary of the 1962 Tour de France made by French filmmaker Louis Malle. A cycling passionate himself, he set out to capture the Tour’s soul: its cultural significance, unforgiving nature and it’s dark side. Vive le Tour highlights the differences in cycling then and now and at the same time shows us just how similar things are 50 years on.
Malle covers all aspects of the Tour in just 18 minutes, expertly cutting through a wide variety of scenes. He has all access and makes use of his pass. We watch trailing motor riders pouring wine into plastic cups and presenting chalkboards with interval times. The camera captures a cheering crowd who are splashing the cyclist with water and we get right up close to the sweaty forehead of the leading rider.
One of the most fascinating scenes is that of the drink raids, executed by the support riders. You see them dumping their bikes and running into café’s to snatch bottles of red wine, champagne or beer. The commentary informs us they grab any drinks they can get their hands on. “Even water, if there is nothing better.”
The second half of the film focuses on the darker side of the Tour: ‘la charge’ or doping. We are told that doping is killing the profession. “It doesn’t give you extra strength, it merely supresses the pain. A doped-up athlete no longer knows his limits. He’s nothing more than a pedalling machine.” Remember, this was more than 50 years ago.
The filmmaker’s love of cycling is especially visible in the way he details the gruelling physical exhaustion of the Tour riders. Malle films the riders up close with both admiration and astonishment. He wants us to grasp just how physically and mentally demanding the Tour de France is.
Unintendedly, Vive le Tour also serves as a document of cycle style. In 1962 you either wore a cycle cap or you let your hair dance in the wind. Drinking bottles were mounted onto the steering pin, and a spare tire was best worn around the shoulders. When the riders get cold climbing up to high altitude the crowd have plenty newspapers ready to stuff their jerseys. Those were the days.
To sum it up, Vive le Tour is an intimate, historical portrait of world’s greatest cycling event and an essential watch for any cycling lover.