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The Indian ascetic tradition can add another name to its ranks: former Australian parliamentary secretary and ultra-marathon runner Pat Farmer, whose 4,600km “Spirit of India” run in 2016 from the subcontinent’s southern tip to Kashmir is chronicled here. That’s 80km – two marathons – a day, for 64 days. If that, often undertaken in 80% humidity, doesn’t sound masochistic enough, Farmer’s social schedule (the run is to promote girls’ education) would finish any normal man off: he attends more than 750 “events”, many on the hoof, during this time.
India can’t fail to provide colour en route, but director Anupam Sharma’s nippy travelogue format is strictly passing through. Barely any Indians are interviewed about what Farmer’s feat means to them, and the alternating asphalt-pounding and meet-and-greets eventually stretch the bounds of documentary patience. Farmer himself is so indomitable – even a bout of stomach flu barely causes him to break stride – that he isn’t that compelling a subject.
The closest The Run comes to an arresting subplot is with the team’s greenhorn intern Kevin, fresh out of university, who finds himself under Farmer’s cosh for failing to secure decent enough media coverage. At one point, he muses that the Aussie press would find the story more compelling if his boss died. Watching him shuffle his battered sinews across four lanes of Mumbai traffic, this seems a distinct possibility.
An unfulfilled note hangs over the whole enterprise. A meeting with Modi doesn’t come through. The postscript resentfully notes that Farmer has yet to be invited to participate in bilateral trade discussions. Kevin’s insight lingers: you have to ask if Farmer found a sharp enough way to communicate the meaning of this journey. Not in this film, which doesn’t go beyond platitudes about “dreams” and “bringing the two countries closer together”, or pry much into Farmer’s seemingly bottomless obstinacy. The Spirit of India isn’t even the most hardcore thing he’s done – that would be the Pole to Pole run in 2011. Still, saying it merits A for effort feels like an understatement.
• The Run is released in the UK on 6 September.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Run review – ultra-marathon documentary trips up | Documentary films