Had Giuseppe Marinoni lied to me? That question ran through my head as I watched the documentary on the Italian-born, Montreal-based frame builder. Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame concluded its debut run at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival Saturday night with both the subject and the filmmaker present. It tells the life story of the bike maker who has made between 20,000 to 30,000 frames during his 40 year career and his 2012 attempt at the one-hour record for 75-79 age category. When I spoke with Marinoni in November 2012, a few weeks after he went against the clock in Montichiari, Italy, he led me to believe he had trained with the confidence that he could beat the existing record. Tony Girardin’s film, however, shows a 75-year-old cyclist very anxious about his goal. “I could die!” Marinoni says at one point. Later, Marinoni pleads with Girardin not to burden the cyclist with the camera and the filming process in Italy. The rider needs peace to perform at his best. So were Marinoni’s words to me those of a man whose anxieties had been erased with time? Possibly. I think, though, that the film has other clues that explain this contradiction.
Giuseppe Marinoni is a charismatic man. He has a sprakle in his eyes. You can see it when he works on a frame or hunts for mushrooms in the forest like a child looking for chocolate Easter eggs. He’s driven, too. When he started his frame-building operation 40 years ago, he’d stay up all night thinking about building bikes. In the opening scenes of the film, Marinoni seems to be cool on the director’s project at best, hostile at worst. During the Q&A that followed the film’s showing on Saturday, Girardin said that it had taken him three years to convince Marinoni to participate in the project. As the film progresses, you see the filmmaker and his subject become more at ease with one another. They tease each other. Before Marinoni’s test on the track, he shaved his legs in preparation. Girardin ended up helping Marinoni shave a few hard-to-reach spots.
Marinoni is full of great quips. As he cares for his chickens, he claims that people are inhumane to those animals. When the director questions Marinoni about how the frame builder kills his own chickens to eat, Marinoni dismisses the matter by saying he gets a little drunk first before he kills them. Some things Marinoni says, I find I have to take with a grain of salt. Before he started building bikes, Marinoni was an accomplished bike racer in Italy and later Canada. When he started working in his shop, it was a long time before he went out riding in any serious fashion. He says that when he did, he had absorbed so many chemicals and metal from the shop that he sweat red, sweat rust during his first two years back on the bike. Is he telling the truth? Is he having us on? I’d say his charm is such that it doesn’t matter.
Girardin does an excellent job of capturing all of Marinoni’s contradictions. One moment Marinoni says Italy is boring. He could be saying it for effect, to try to convince Girardin not to follow him to Europe. A little later, Marinoni says earnestly that Italy is the most beautiful country in the world. I think both statements are true for Marinoni. I also think that the nonchalance he presented to me about his record attempt and the stress he showed onscreen are also both real and true. That Girardin can present the nuances of Marinoni’s character is a testament to Girardin’s skill as a documentary filmmaker.
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Girardin is also a great storyteller. Even though I wrote about Marinoni’s record attempt for this magazine, I felt tense as he rode around the track in Montichiari as if I didn’t know the outcome. On Saturday, Girardin revealed that getting the film completed was a bit of a nail biter, too. He had submitted his half-finished rough cut of the documentary late to the Hot Docs festival. He said the organization liked what they saw and wanted to see the end. Girardin got everything finished about a week before the film’s first showing at the festival on April 25. It’s good that he got it done. He’s made important record of a significant figure in Canadian cycling.
— David Tipton (@eastcoasthiker) May 4, 2014