Monday, 25 October 2021

Stjerner og vandbærere (1974)


Stjerner og vandbærere

For my third off-List movie for 1974 I had chosen the legendary Danish sports movie “Stjerner og vandbærere” (which apparently go by the English title of “The Stars and the Water Carriers”…), but it turned out it was not legendary enough to be available in any format. You cannot buy this movie and the YouTube version is with English speak, which completely misses the point. This movie is all about Jørgen Leth’s narration in Danish. The only way, seriously, to watch this movie is to venture into Copenhagen to the Cinematek of the Danish Film Institute and ask to watch a copy on the spot. That I finally got around to do last Wednesday along with another movie I had picked for 1975. More on that one in a few weeks.

This was actually a very nice experience. They are very helpful at the Cinematek and you get a nice room to watch the movie in, with headphones and soft seats. A great afternoon, really, for both my movies were all I hoped they would be.

“Stjerner og vandbærere” is a film epos, a poem, really, on the 1973 edition of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race. It is a feature length movie by Jørgen Leth who until recently was an integral part of the commentator team of any large bicycle race on Danish television such as Tour de France or Giro d’Italia. His style is poetic with short, clipped sentences, painting an epos out of the duels and endurance of the riders in these races. In his story they become heroes battling for the highest glory, knights with superhuman capabilities.

Giro d’Italia takes place over a few weeks and for those not into bicycling the winner is the one who finishes in the combined shortest time. Each rider is part of a professional bicycling team where some are stars, and some are there to help the stars. It is a grueling race over a very long distance and with many, very tall mountains.

It is telling about the style that we almost never get any results in this movie or times or positions. These, normally so essential, elements are completely uninteresting to Jørgen Leth. For him it is the dynamics, how the assistant riders, the water carriers, are helping the stars, the support teams with the doctors and mechanics, the concentration before the race, the excitement of the towns the race is passing through, and, perhaps more than anything else, the duels, the battles, the king and the challengers.

Eddy Merckx was the ruling king and famous for grinding the opposition with his constant, powerful speed. Gimondi his rival and Fuente, the Spanish climbing specialist who may or may not be able to challenge the king in the mountains. In Leth’s narration this is so much more than bicycle duels. These are big tactical games and demonstrations of superhuman strength, desperate attacks and honorable defeats.

A second main character is Ole Ritter, the single Danish participants, who officially is a support rider for Gimondi on the Bianchi team, but because he is doing so well, gets a chance to race his own chance.

This was exactly the movie I had expected it to be, exactly the Jørgen Leth I know from watching bicycling 10-20 years ago and exactly the larger than life epos I hoped it would be. Technically it is not up to today’s standard and also the race has evolved since then. Thankfully the riders are now wearing helmets and the roads on the mountains are now paved, but there is also an innocence here. Riders picking up cola and beer en-route to drink and interviewing each other for television. It is charming, no doubt about that.

If you can get your hands on this movie it is definitely one I recommend, I just wonder if the narration will come through in the subtitles. Stay away from the English version on YouTube.



  1. This sounds like a wonderful film. How fortunate are you to get a private showing! How did you like UFA?

    1. Babelsberg was a big disappointment. As a theme park it was incredibly thin as a film exhibition it was worn down and half the sets were still Corona closed. My son was utterly disgusted by the place. Visiting Berlin, go for the film museum on Potsdammer Platz instead.