a sunday in hell
(1977) Directed by Jørgen Leth
Before cycling became a thing and documentaries on it became commonplace, this was the only one. It attained near-mythical status with fans who had to share it on VHS. Beloved, half-remembered films can lose their lustre over time, but A Sunday in Hell exceeds expectation. Danish director and poet Leth succeeded in his goal to distil heroism at the Paris-roubaix, cycling’s toughest one-day race, of 1976. Real pain emerges from grimacing, bloodied cyclists—the opposite effect given off by the machine-like road racers of today. The greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx, is here, exuding Euro cool like Jeanpaul Belmondo on a bike. A subtle synth-and-symphony score is 40 years ahead of its time. Rivalries and team bonds, only briefly noted in the spare voiceover, are shown to be genuine. One of very few films to convey how hard and noble pro sport can be.