Passion. By definition, it has multiple meanings. It can be a driving force, an intense feeling of love for something, but it can also be the reason behind suffering. In the film, “The Racer” (Coreur) we see these meanings come to life through the story of a Belgian cyclist, Felix (Neils Willaerts), and his quest for success in the professional cycling world. Felix has a very strong love for the sport, an addiction to the rush and excitement of not only racing but overcoming all odds in order to win races. This passion was installed into him by his father at a very young age and to him, it is all that really matters. Throughout the film, we see how this drives him to succeed, but also creates a toxic mindset that distracts him from reason.
The film was written and directed by Kenneth Mercken, who is no stranger to the professional cycling world and the emotions associated with it. In fact, it is largely based on his own life and experience with the sport. In an interview with Mercken before the film’s UK debut at the 27th Raindance Film Festival, he touched on how this made the portrayal of Felix very accurate but also stressed the importance to him to keep the plot semi-fictional. Additionally, he explained that it was instrumental that Felix not be played by a professional actor but instead a real professional cyclist. This added many real aspects to Felix’s character from the introverted dialogue he uses to the authenticity of his cycling form. This was crucial to the depiction of his experience and adds a documentary perspective that lets the viewer feel the same passion that Felix does and at the same time, the immense pressures he faces from his father, coaches, and teammates, which ultimately leads him on a path of self-destruction.
Mercken was very explicit in the way he intended the characters to be portrayed in the film. He explained that the most important thing was to avoid at all costs a “good guy bad guy” story. Instead, he leaves the plot open-ended and up for the viewer to decide what is right and what is wrong as well as who is right and who is wrong, for these are both subjective concepts. Of course, the viewer wants what is best for Felix but it is also clear that he is making the wrong choices, even if they are for the right reasons. This is also prevalent in the other characters such as his father and coaches, who push Felix beyond both his physical and mental capacities in order for him to achieve great success in cycling. We also see how his teammates cope with these pressures through drugs, violence, and most of all, cycling. Overall, this film captures the utter passion for cycling possessed by all the characters and shows just how far they will push themselves and the sacrifices they will make purely out of their true love for the sport.
This was Mercken’s first feature film and was selected for multiple festivals such as Festival Du Film De Mons, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Goteborg Film Festival, and Film Fest Gent.
You can view the trailer below: