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Soundtrack review: Pantani – the accidental death of a cyclist (Lorne Balfe – 2015)

Documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Pantani – the accidental death of a cyclist (Lorne Balfe – 2015)


I was a big fan of Mario Pantani, „The Pirate”. It was back in the days when I used to believe in and follow cycling and what he achieved in 1998 was unique. I liked his style and I like what transpired from the interviews. When a few years later he was found dead, alone in a hotel room in Rimini I was really sad because this was the tragedy of a man who didn’t deserve it. He was caught in a dangerous game by ruthless men and he was too fragile to cope with the lies. So while professional cheats and born liars who lack conscience, like Lance Armstrong still live happily ever after and continue to lie and deceive, Pantani found an early exit from a world that unjustly excluded him from it.

I watched “Pantani: The accidental death of a cyclist” and I was moved by how many people loved him and how many tried to save him. But the machine that promoted Armstrong and his lies was too strong… I was too involved in the story and didn’t pay attention to the music, but I am ready to listen to it now especially since it was composed by one of my favorite composers, Lorne Balfe.

The first cue, “Depart reel”, reminds me of the cool and exuberant start of Hans Zimmer’s “Rush”. The electric guitar dominates and there isn’t a single shadow in this cue. A melodic blanket comes above that constant guitar motif and brings life and heart to the music from the beginning. Lorne captured the essence of how the theme for a racer, be car driver or cyclist, should sound like.

“Giro d’Italia” is lonely and atmospheric. It’s not relaxing by any means… the atmosphere is thick and tense and I can feel the drive, the need to push, the hardship of this competition. I can also feel the loneliness of the rider and I imagine the hours spend with his thoughts, fighting fatigue and keeping his sanity. Lorne slowed the rhythm of this cue almost to the slowest pace, as if the notes related to us that the rider finally found a small portion of the road where he can rest his legs and rely on gravity. Again I think of “Rush” which is my favorite racing score ever and I know Lorne paid attention when that one happened.

“Il Giro” must have been harder than “Le tour” because the theme for that race is more determined. This is a simple guitar theme, almost an ostinato which incorporates that atmospheric sound which I now consider to be “Pantani’s theme” … that small motif that always hides something, the few notes dedicated to a soul misunderstood. It’s just a shadow because the race continues even more determined and relentless.

When “Flame rouge” starts and that dense ambient sound comes back I start feeling the regret that this score is only 17 minutes long. When I started writing about it, the length of the score was encouraging because today is one of the days when my new born baby girl made it the hardest to write. 17 minutes is about as much as I got late tonight when I am exhausted… And yet I would have enjoyed a lot more because Lorne just understood what this story was about and poured heavy drops of melancholy in his music. He doesn’t let us forget that this is a tragic happening and the main character never stood a chance. There were times this year during his “Sons of liberty” and “Above and beyond” scores where I mentioned that Lorne might have used the auto pilot. It’s not the case here. He really handled “Pantani: the accidental death of a cyclist” with care and I wonder if he was a fan of “The Pirate” as well…

“Death of a cyclist” has a sense of release in it. His troubled life is over, his worries are over and nobody can hurt him now. The cue keeps that guitar background and returns to the melody that opened this score. It sounds accusing and unforgiving, implacable and unavoidable. And yet this score doesn’t end in silence. The guitar rhythm doesn’t change its pace and it sounds as if the race goes ever on and the wheels keep turning….

Two months into 2015 Lorne Balfe already has three scores out. I know that just like me he recently had a baby so his life is different and challenging but he keeps delivering the goods… There’s still a lot to come from him this year and I can’t wait for it. So how could I not write about this score even if I am this tired… ?


Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 13 / 17

Album excellence: 75%


Depart reel

Giro d’Italia

Flamme rouge

Death of a cyclist

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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