PALIO

Snorting and champing, horsey doc Palio *** thunders into cinemas whipped on by the producing heft of James Gay Rees, the man behind Asif Kapadia’s hits Senna and Amy.

I’ve actually been to the Palio in Sienna, a deafening pageant of baffling relevance to the warring districts (‘contrade’) of this ancient and tiny Tuscan city. It’s a great touristic spectacle and the parties go on all night but when you just watch or crane amid the crush in the Piazza del Campo, you have no idea of the skulduggery and traditions unveiled in Cosima Spender’s film.

Her access is remarkable, interviewing the jockeys who become instant heroes or villains if they win one of the two annual races, in July and in August. What comes to light is the jostling and horse-trading, the monies and the madness, all of which must be mastered and overcome by a jockey if he is to win the 90-second hurtle round the old square.

Rollerball, Rocky, Senna, all of these come to mind. It’s a handsome-looking film and a decent piece of investigation by a director who grew up in the neighbourhood with an illustrious artistic pedigree. Like bull running and other ancient European customs such as siestas and smoking, I’m not sure I understand quite why the Palio still exists, though I’m very glad it does.