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by Hannes Michael Schalle

grade: 7

Employing many archive footage, Lauda – The Untold Story, directed by Austrian Hannes Michael Schalle, meticulously investigates the facts, including testimonies and controversies that arose following the famous accident involving the legendary driver Niki Lauda in August 1976. And so, in this great carousel of the Formula 1 world, no one is missing.

That day in August

One year after the successful Rush – made in 2013 by Ron Howard – a documentary entirely focused on the famous racing driver Niki Lauda has been produced directly in Austria. We are talking about Lauda – The Untold Story, directed by documentary filmmaker Hannes Michael Schalle, who has focused his important work on the tragic car accident involving the Viennese driver on 1 August 1976 during a season’s race at the prestigious – and highly dangerous – Nürburgring circuit. And if, now that Niki Lauda has unfortunately left us, looking back over his life and his extraordinary career, mentioning his person only in connection with his accident may be reductive, it is in fact from this dramatic event that Schalle has set off a much broader discourse, telling us, along with Lauda’s story, also the history of that much-discussed motor racing circuit.

Using many archive footage – with frequent interviews with drivers, Ferrari managers, and, of course, Niki Lauda himself – Lauda – The Untold Story, cleverly divided into five chapters, meticulously investigates the facts, including testimonies and controversies that arose following the well-known accident. And so, in this great carousel of the world of Formula 1, no one is missing: from Niki Lauda to his friend/rival James Hunt, from the driver’s family to one of his neighbours, from his former colleagues to the young drivers of today who have always seen in the tenacious Niki Lauda the myth and the master. Everyone has their say on the facts, everyone tells us a part of the story, everyone talks about their own, personal approach to motor racing.

Interviews especially shot for Lauda – The Untold Story alternate with interviews made in 1976, creating a complete fresco of an era that, in just 90 minutes, also tells the story of a circuit and, in a broader sense, the story of one of the most popular sports in the world. Not least, a sort of controversy is also raised concerning the safety of the circuits themselves, where, all too often, hundreds of drivers, as well as a lot of spectators, have died in the past decades. And, in this regard, Niki Lauda’s accident, paradoxically, marked a turning point as far as the safety of motor racing circuits around the world is concerned, where, in the first decades of the 20th century, not even the use of helmets for drivers was initially provided for, but, on the contrary, they simply wore a sort of white cap.

If, therefore, given the large amount of archive footage available and, above all, given the classical approach of the work, a documentary such as Lauda – The Untold Story could, on the one hand, could only be accused of excessive didacticism, on the other hand, we must acknowledge that Schalle has skilfully selected and organised the contents exposed in a programmatic and never banal manner (thanks also to the well-chosen subdivision into chapters), ensuring that this work has the not always obvious ability to captivate the audiences’ attention from beginning to end.

And so the tragic images of Nürburgring that we all sadly know, alternated with the frantic moments when everyone anxiously awaited some news regarding Lauda’s health condition, without forgetting to go back in memory to all those drivers who, in the past, died during races, including, of course, the unforgettable Ayrton Senna.

Lauda – The Untold Story is, therefore, all this: a little, sometimes imperfect, but undoubtedly well-structured and exhaustive film that tells us about something that we have all, for better or worse, heard about, but of which few know the details. A sincere and exciting documentary for Formula 1 enthusiasts and others and which, last but not least, also and above all, highlights the extraordinary strength and tenacity of the Austrian driver, who was so attached to life and to his passion for motor racing that he even defeated death.

Original title: Lauda – The Untold Story
Directed by: Hannes Michael Schalle
Country/year: Austria, Great Britain / 2014
Running time: 90’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Hannes Michael Schalle, Alistair Audsley, Guenther Mitterhuber
Cinematography: Oliver Indra
Produced by: Moonlake Entertainment, Premiere Picture

Info: the page of Lauda – The Untold Story on iMDb; the website of Hannes Michael Schalle