Posted at 1:08 PM on July 10, 2006
by Euan Kerr
Thanks to one of my colleagues I watched "A Sunday in Hell" over the weekend. It was one of the films screened at the "Bicycle Film Festival" this weekend, but it's available on DVD too, through cycling suppliers.
It's an incredible film chrinicalling the Paris Roubaix bike race in 1976. The latter half of the race runs along little used cobbled farm roads, which the bikes call "l'enfer du nord," or "hell of the north." Riders shake their way for miles along these tracks, often peering their way through thick clouds of dust thrown up by the caravan of cars and vans preceding the race.
"A Sunday in Hell" is described by some as the best film ever made about professional bike racing. What makes it so good is the way that it's not so much about bicycling but obsessives, whether it be the riders or their teams, and the people who come to watch their obsession play out.
Director Jorgen Leth delves deep into what actually happens out on the course. He uses film taken all over the course, cutting back and forth as the race heats up. Yet some of the most potent moments are when he allows the camera to just rest in one place, allowing the viewer to watch the hypnotic way a huge group of cyclists slither through an s-bend, or to sit at the edge of the road to show how agonizingly huge a nine second lead really is for those left in the dust. He then lets you see how far the people who are a minute behind have to catch up.
Sound is important to a "Sunday in Hell." The film is narrated in English, but little if any of the dialog is translated. We learn about these athletes through their actions. And we learn about the noise of the cars and the motorbikes, the crowds by the course, and even the demonstrators trying to block the race in opposition to one of the sponors.
The music is fascinating too. What at first seems like a gregorian chant turns out to be a male voice choir invoking the name of the race over and over again. A great deal of the music gets a little extra drive from a static-like sound running through it. In time it merges with the sound of the constant gear changing as the riders go through their paces.
It's hard to find this movie, but it's well worth a look.
Yes, this is the definitve cycling movie. If you have a lack of motivation or confidence, just throw this on and ride the trainer to it. You'll be back to form shortly, even in mid winter. Another must-see is 'Stars and Water Carriers' about the Giro Italia race. Very different, but also very cool.
Thanks for the tip. Strangely enough there is a copy of that DVD floating around the newsroom too and I am looking forward to seeing it.