What was the last really good film that you watched? Whatever it was, I’d wager that it featured big-name stars, highly polished production values, a sonorous score and a gripping story that twisted and turned like a mountain road. Maybe it garnered an Oscar or two along the way, maybe it was something a little more alternative.
I’d also hazard a guess and say that cars didn’t feature as its predominant theme. However, this is a car website (the clue is in the name!), so there’s a better-than-even chance that if you’ve taken the time to read this, you have a passing interest in all things automotive. You’ve probably watched classic motoring flicks like Vanishing Point and Mad Max; cringed at Nicholas Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds; or tried to make sense of the Fast and Furious franchise. For the motorsport nut, Asif Kapadia’s Senna is a truly great documentary, while Days of Thunder made everyone want to be Cole Trickle. I still want to be Cole Trickle.
Now, what if I was to tell you that one of the best car-related films you’ll ever watch has no soundtrack, no big-name Hollywood star, or no real dialogue? Le Mans might spring to mind, but that was (mostly) staged. No, this is something else entirely, with no fakery and no second takes. It’s a mishmash of old footage, some of it extremely low-definition, stands at a marathon 93 minutes long and can be found on YouTube, the platform of choice for cat videos and spotty supercar spotters. This is no Netflix Original series, nor a big-budget production. It’s made by a Finnish man called Antti Kalhola, whose short videos have achieved cult status among hardcore motorsport enthusiasts over the last few years.
No soundtrack? Doesn’t need one, the raw sounds of every rally car of note from the last four decades provide more than enough aural stimulation. No big-name Hollywood star? Not to worry, world rally champions from Auriol to Waldegard fill the leading roles, supported by cameos from the likes of James Hunt. No real dialogue? Pace notes are your guide, along with never-before heard conversations between drivers and co-drivers, team managers and service crews, journalists and spectators.
The plot loosely follows the timeline of a rally, seamlessly swinging back and forth through different eras of the sport. Every aspect is captured perfectly; the build-up of nerves among the crews before the first stage, the anticipation among spectators as cars roll up to the start line. Revs rising, exhausts blaring, eyes on stalks, everything from old Escorts to modern WRC cars blast off into battle. Covered in sweat and with a microphone shoved in their face mere seconds after the end of a stage, you get each driver’s true thoughts, adrenaline still coursing through every vein.
Service stops provide brief respite, often at the side of the road. Timo Salonen smokes constantly. Colin McRae gives an interview while having a wee. Trash-talking resumes, especially among the usually stoic Finns, then it’s back to war once more as light fades and night draws in. Weather wreaks havoc. Frustration and elation feature in equal measure. Crashes come thick and fast, many terminal. Drivers drag battered heaps back to their service crews, who work miracles against the clock to keep them running. A spectator’s Capri is commandeered by the Ford team for its differential, in a last-gasp attempt to keep Ari Vatanen running.
It’s dramatic, gripping, thought-provoking and at times, gut-wrenching. I dare anyone not to well up at the raw emotion displayed by Craig Breen as he achieves his first podium, or feel heartbroken for Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya as they lose a world championship 300 metres from the finish. There’s some real humour too, especially from the Finns, whose swear words Antti has kindly translated for the viewer’s benefit. Trust me, whether you’re a motorsport fan or not, this video - Rally: the Great Adventure - is one of the best things you’ll watch this year.