Filmmaker Quentin Baillieux paints a picture of sport and tragedy at Circuit de la Sarthe
In the history of racing disasters, the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans tragedy still exists in a category of its own. Even today, it's difficult to believe that that many people could be killed in an accident involving a small number of race cars, and the still-uncertain death toll adds an aura of unease and menace to the tragedy.
And that all makes creating an animated short film about the event a delicate and daunting undertaking.
Directed by filmmaker Quentin Baillieux, the film was inspired by his visit to an exhibition about the race at the Louvre.
"I began researching that event, and two very contradictory photos appeared next to one another on my screen," Baillieux wrote in his director's notes. "On one side, the image of a tragedy: people in a panic, a blazing inferno behind them. Bodies were sprawled across the stadium. The photo beside it depicted delighted drivers celebrating their victory with Champagne. How could these two images be linked? How can we live a moment so joyful in parallel to one so tragic?"
The crash involved a Jaguar, an Austin-Healey and a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. After a Jaguar driven by racer Mike Hawthorn forced an Austin-Healey driven by Lance Macklin into the path of the 300 SLR piloted by Pierre Levegh, the Mercedes launched into the air and into the stands, tearing into the crowd of hundreds and killing over 80 people, including Levegh. The exact death toll remains in dispute, though most sources estimate that 84 people died in the crash and that well over a hundred were injured. The event led several countries to suspend motor racing and Mercedes to withdraw from motorsport until 1989.
A number of factors were blamed for the accident, including the inadequate safety barriers at the track and the layout of the track itself, which was not designed for the speeds that the 1955 race cars reached.
"My desire to create this film was born from these questions -- the need to find a link that can allow this juxtaposition of imagery to coexist," Baillieux added. "The tendency of man to destroy itself, forgetting its humanity while being consumed by its pride, its passion and feelings is the subject on which I wanted to delve into. It is the basis of my studies and my thoughts -- and my desire to make this film."
As the trailer above demonstrates, many of the racers are depicted in this animated film, which was released in France at the end of June and will be available here later this year.