Poetic and thrilling... with an insane Freddie Mercury theme song
The low IMDb rating on this one is strange.
Marathon is everything you'd hope an Olympic documentary by Carlos Saura might be. It's a lot like his Flamenco movies; he strips away everything inessential, making it easy to focus on the beauty and physical heroism of performance.
Ordinarily, I'd say that 20 minutes is too long to spend on an opening ceremony, but Spain really went all-out, with a weird, stylized spectacle that earns the time Saura gives it.
Unlike the talkier Olympic films, Marathon manages to present a wide variety of sports. There's no voice-over; the film just drops you into a series of finals, sometimes playing entire races and leaps more than once: with music, without... in slow motion, at full speed. Sometimes he lingers on an athlete who has faltered; other times (most memorably with a Nigerian relay runner, who is overwhelmed when she sees that the team has finished 3rd, rather than 4th), he captures moments of joy in a simple but affecting way.
Saura shows respect for the athletes and the sports, filming everything in a way that emphasizes the skill, endurance, and mental strength necessary to beat a field of the strongest and fastest athletes on the planet. He doesn't impose stories and tropes on the athletes; the competition itself is the story.
The brief training sequences reminded me of Fred Wiseman's documentaries; they're all about mood and milieu. The framing device of the men's marathon is unpretentious and works well.
I don't know, man! This movie is good! I'd put it up there with Tokyo Olympiad and other classics of the genre. As of 2021, it's probably the last Olympic film that deserves to be played on the big screen. It's great that it's recently been restored in 4K and given a high-quality physical release by Criterion.
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