Young at Heart

Documentary film directed by James Marsh
Running Time: 94 mins
Rated: Rated PG (brief nudity and sexual references)

A fascinating film about a fascinating (if self-publicising, idiosyncratic) celebrity. While it is a documentary, it has some reconstructed sequences and plays as interestingly as a fiction feature.

Philippe Petit was a 23 year old Frenchman who walked on wires between the two towers of the World Trace Center on August 7th 1974. At the same time, Richard Nixon was making speeches about Watergate and, the day after the walk, resigned the presidency losing some of the headlines to M. Petit.

Documentarist James Marsh (who also made the feature film, The King, with Gael Garcia Bernal) has had access to a great deal of film footage and photographs of Petit's walks, not only in New York, but also between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1971 and between two pylons on Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1973. The framework of this film, however, is the narrative of preparations for the World Trade Center walk, an attempt cut short, the night before the walk with its tensions in getting into the building, carrying the equipment, hiding from security staff, firing the arrow which would take the cable from one tower to the other.

Most of the principal members of the team have been interviewed for this film intercut with the archival footage showing them over thirty years earlier (looking particularly 70s-ish with hair styles and clothes), part of the fascination. In the reconstructed sequences, we see Philippe's early days in France, his developing his tightrope walking skills. And Petit himself, in his late fifties, is a vigorous and entertaining raconteur, drawing us into his story and his vision and his feelings. He just doesn't tell the story but gets up and re-enacts a lot of what he did.

Petit's skills, nerve and acrobatic skills are often beautiful - the testimony also of one of the NYPD who was on hand to arrest him.

A continually gripping and intriguing documentary - sometimes unnerving if one has empathetic vertigo sensitivities as one sits in one's comfortable seat looking at Petit way up high.

Madman Films Out 16th October

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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