Going into the Mountainfilm 2019 screening of Any One of Us, nearly every audience member knew that professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia was going to suffer a devastating accident leading to a spinal cord injury. The film had been advertised for this very plot point––only those in the audience who had blindly followed their friends into the theater could be surprised and even then, the presenter would have spoiled it for them. Fortunately, director Fernando Villena was very aware of this fact and used it to the film’s advantage.
Injury-related documentaries are fairly common, to the point where the scene of the protagonist recounting their accident is a given; often, it feels like the film can’t begin until it’s gotten that particular scene out of the way. Rather than attempt to force suspense that isn’t there, Villena combats this weariness by approaching the accident with the audience’s mindset of inevitability. As Basagoitia rides his mountain bike down a steep incline and propels himself off the cliff’s edge, the audience winces slightly, imagining the accident to come. But it doesn’t. Basagoitia completes the trick and returns to the top of the cliff for another go. Meanwhile, voiceover narration from multiple people recount the details of the accident as the footage cuts from Basagoitia performing his stunts to their interview footage. Yet, as more and more people speak, it becomes apparent to the viewer that there are too many people recounting this story and too many details that don’t add up, leading to the realization that the interviewees aren’t recounting Basagoitia’s accident––they’re recounting their own.
While initially confusing, the directorial choice soon proves astute: as the stories become more and more tense, Basagoitia’s stunts become all the more agonizing to watch. Over and over, he flies down the cliff and safely lands at the bottom, leading to audible gasps and cringes in the audience. The repetition rackets up the tension in a way that a single accident scene could not, and it leads the audience to somehow, irrationally, hope that maybe there won’t be an accident. Until finally––inevitably––there is, and Basagoitia metaphorically joins the ranks of the voiceover speakers.
This joining of the ranks is a powerful motif that continues throughout the film. Just as a spinal cord injury can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they participate in extreme sports––which is what the title, Any One of Us, references––Basagoitia’s story is highly relatable and representative of any one of us. The camera is given few restrictions: viewers watch as he struggles to urinate and shower and even discusses his ability to have sex. Much of this early struggle was documented by Basagoitia himself as something to do while recuperating. While the footage could have played as gratuitous, it instead enforces the devastation of the injury and makes it feel painfully real for the viewer.
Villena’s directorial choice to include interviews from other injured people is especially effective in illustrating how real and common these injuries are. While Basagoitia is sufficiently charismatic to shoulder the film alone, having a diverse group of people sharing their stories in tandem only increases the audience’s sense of pathos. As the film explains, spinal cord injuries are as unique and varying as they people who get them, so it is unreasonable to expect everyone to heal the same way. There are no rules when it comes to these injuries, and Basagoitia’s confusion and anguish towards his recovery process is reflected in all of those who have experienced it as well. Their inability to define their experience and manage their expectations for recovery only increases their commonality.
The film makes no attempt to condemn extreme sports––although the characters struggle with mixed feelings in regard to it––nor does it make any attempt to form one overarching message about recovery. It rather documents the struggle that everyone with a spinal cord injury shares and the uncertainty that it brings.
As the film drew to a close that evening, there weren’t many dry eyes in the audience, and when, during the question and answer session, Villena approached the stage along with Basagoitia himself, everyone stood and cheered. From there, an emotional discussion developed as audience members shared personal experiences with spinal cord injuries and mused on how to best support loved ones. The night was transformed from a feeling of predictability in regard to the “tragic accident” film to a feeling of shared solidarity in the face of life’s unpredictability. Nearly all who attended left seemingly uplifted.