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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.29.08] review documentary

Year: 2008
Release date: Unknown
Director: James Marsh
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

“When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.” (Phillipe Petit)

Man on Wire is a documentary that chronicles the six year plan and finally the execution of one of the most audacious stunts in human history. In the late 1960’s French street performer Philippe Petit was sitting in the dentist waiting room, casually looking through a newspaper, he spotted an article on the construction of the World Trade Centre buildings in New York and he was suddenly inspired. He had to do it, he had to cross between them on a tightrope... A pretty crazy thought but on seeing interviews with Petit, a charismatic and passionate character, I kind of saw his point (not that you'd ever have gotten me up there!). The man is a master of his craft, an incredibly skilled high wire walker, unicyclist and juggler - his walks seem to bring out a cathartic, childlike glee. He’d done the Eiffel Tower and The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the World Trade Centre must have seemed like the next logical step.

The film starts with some slick recreations of the events leading up to the act, the team sneaking into the WTC with fake passes and uniforms and then hiding in their respective towers until dark, while interviews punctuate the scenes with expiatory dialog of what happened that night in 1974. Then we’re back six years in time to the day it all began and learn the story of how these people came together and worked on this bizarre idea – constructing a replica wire for Petit to practice with, visiting New York to study the layout of the buildings and all the things that could and in some cases did go wrong in the process, until we’re treated to photographs and dizzying video footage of the event itself, followed by the aftermath and the effect it had on Petit and his crew suddenly being thrown into the media spotlight.

Directed by James Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip; The King) this fascinating documentary captures the excitement and danger of what has been described as ‘the most artistic crime of the century’. As Petit puts it himself, “What we did was a crime, but nobody gets hurt, which is beautiful.” The thing that stands out the most might well be the fact that nothing like this could ever really happen now, not only because of the events of 9/11 (something the film does not touch on) but also the nature of the world we live in now. As the arresting police officer says in archive footage, trying to appear disapproving but unable to stop smiling, “What I just saw, I don’t think anyone will ever see again in the whole world.”

Petit himself is the real star of the show here, surrounded by an eccentric group of helpers and well wishers from France, Australia and America, I can easily see why they felt obliged and even honored to help him with his life dream, the end result of which is both nerve-wrecking and absolutely heart renderingly beautiful. Petit is every bit the showman, talking a mile a minute his sheer enthusiasm is enough to instantly endear him and to create sympathy with his cause. Something akin to a surreal heist movie, this documentary clocks in at around 90 minutes and is hugely entertaining.

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