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Gerald Cooperberg
07-04-2007, 08:09 PM
I stumbled across a used DVD of this splendid film in the oddest of places (a Salvation Army thrift store) and watched it with my father this afternoon. What a wonderful film! It's a documentary by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix bicycle race, evidently one of the most famous single-day races. The course is notoriously punishing, as much of it covers rural cobblestone streets choked with dust. My father, born in 1947, is a huge bicycling enthusiast (he has told me stories about breathlessly following Euro tour races in the 1960s... through French newspapers arriving at his local library, six months after the events had taken place), and it was fun to watch him shout excitedly at the heated drama between what to him are lions of the sport, including Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens, Roger De Vlaeminck, Marc Demeyer, and Francesco Moser. I don't know as much about cycling (especially of that era) myself, but I was still drawn in-- the film not only effectively renders the competition itself suspensful, but also does a terrific job in capturing the beauty in the simple, muscular grace of the sport itself. Leth's cameras seem to peer in from every possible angle, whether it is visceral closeness to the riders themselves or elegaic overhead shots of the pack's synchronous movement. He often mixes an ambient soundtrack with images of the race's inexorable forward momentum to good effect, but just as often lets the weirdly alien cacophany of car horns, shouts in every language, and sound of cranks turning mingle by itself. I also loved the way that the context of the race and its surroundings was constantly playing around the edges, whether it's oh-so-French protest demonstrations or just the idyllic countryside.

Anyway, highly recommended! I just looked on Netflix, and it doesn't seem like they carry it, but do yrself a favor and check it out should you ever run across it elsewhere. I did find one clip on YouTube that should serve as a good reference for whether you might find it interesting: