Highly acclaimed Danish director and documentary filmmaker Jorgen Leth brings you the drama of Paris-Roubaix in a film that became a foreign classic in the U.S. \"A Sunday in Hell\" is a psychological and dramatic study of the battle between Merckx, DeVlaeminick, Marten and Moser. Over 90 minutes of spine-tingling suspense that leave the viewer limp from vicarious excitement. \"Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Martens and Moser - a gallery of great names clash in battle over the pave. We are mesmerized by Leth\'s perceptive vision of what a spring classic means. A true masterpiece of cycling cinematography. This is a must-have video for every cycling fan\'s collection.\" - Winning. Directed by JÃ?Â¸rgen Leth. 95 min.
From Holly Ordway\'s DVDTalk.com review:
The cover copy on the case of A Sunday in Hell describes it as \"arguably the best film ever made about professional cycling,\" and it\'s no exaggeration. A Sunday in Hell is that rare and delightful creature, a documentary that offers a perceptive and interesting introduction to cycling for viewers who are new to the sport, while at the same time providing a great viewing experience for those who are already fans.
The \"hell\" in question is the one-day Paris-Roubaix race, one of the \"spring classics\" on the professional cycling calendar. As with the major stage races like the Tour de France, the classics are team affairs, with each professional team sending their star along with supporting riders whose job is to help the team leader win (though if the leader drops out of the race or clearly is having a bad day, the supporting riders can take their own shot at victory). But unlike the Tour de France or Giro d\'Italia, which are three-week-long races, each classic race is only one day, one single stage, so for the riders there\'s no holding back and saving their strength for another day.
Paris-Roubaix is the most famous and usually the most dramatic of the spring classics. The latter portion of the race takes place over \"pave\": narrow, bumpily-cobbled roads that become choked with dust on dry days and treacherously slick and muddy on rainy days... hence the nickname \"the hell of the north\" that gives the film its title. For the riders it\'s a challenge simply to keep going without puncturing a tire or crashing on the difficult cobbled roads, which means that the top riders are at the same disadvantage as the rest of the pack... and there\'s always the chance of a daring, well-timed breakaway that can bring victory to a lesser-known rider. All in all, it\'s an exciting race, both in the 1976 edition that\'s filmed in A Sunday in Hell, and in more recent editions that I\'ve seen on VHS in the race coverage from World Cycling Productions.
The film itself, directed by Jorgen Leth, is a polished and well-crafted documentary that succeeds in capturing not just the events of the 1976 edition of Paris-Roubaix, but also the whole atmosphere of a professional bicycle race. The film begins with the introduction of the major contenders for victory: Merckx, De Vlaeminck (the previous year\'s winner), Martens, and Moser, each with their supporting riders who are determined to help their team leader cross the finish line first. This opening material is one of the parts of A Sunday in Hell that make it highly accessible to viewers who are new to cycling, because it lets the viewer know who are the major \"characters\" to watch out for.
As the film progresses, it takes the viewer through the pre-race preparations by the riders, to the start of the race, to the events of the race itself, and finally to its exciting finale. Because this is a documentary, not specifically race coverage, we\'re given an overview of the whole experience of the race, including from the perspective of spectators and race organizers; however, the main focus of the film is rightfully on the exciting events of the race itself. The narrator does an excellent job of describing what\'s going on, and, more importantly, explaining the reasons behind what the riders are doing. There\'s a great deal of information and insights about professional bicycle racing that is incorporated into the film. By the end of the 95-minute documentary, even a viewer who was completely unfamiliar with cycling will have a great sense of what bicycle racing is all about, and why it\'s such an exciting sport, while racing fans will also have gotten a great sense of the personalities, strategies, and racing styles of some of cycling\'s greatest riders in one of cycling\'s most famous races.
Professional road cycling is an exciting sport, but one that\'s sometimes hard to explain to non-fans. The drama plays out over the course of hours, days, or weeks, rather than in just an hour or so, like other sports. There\'s a lot of tactical maneuvering and strategy involved, as well as mental discipline and pure physical strength and endurance, but the nuances sometimes take a while to see. It\'s tough to capture the essence of bike racing on film, but it\'s a worthwhile challenge, since once you get hooked on watching racing, it\'s a uniquely entertaining sport to follow. Among the films that do attempt to convey the world of cycle racing, A Sunday in Hell has legendary status for capturing the essence of the Paris-Roubaix race, while the recent Hell on Wheels excels in showing us the Tour de France from the inside. Where does the Danish documentary Overcoming fit into this category?
Overcoming follows the Danish racing team CSC through one grueling season, leading up to the 2004 Tour de France. Helmed by former Tour champion Bjarne Riis, the CSC squad contains a number of talented riders, most notably Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Jens Voigt, and U.S. rider Bobby Julich. The film attempts to show what it\'s like for the riders, who are under intense pressure to do well in training and in the three-week race itself, and to capture the unique feel of the Tour de France, which is the largest sporting event in the world. It\'s great material, but Overcoming doesn\'t work nearly as well as it could have, largely due to poor choices in the editing and structure of the film.
The film gets off to a rocky start with an introduction that feels jumbled and disconnected; it\'s hard to see where the film is headed, and it certainly doesn\'t feel sustainable. Eventually we see the title of the film, so in retrospect what we just saw was a lengthy opening sequence rather than part of the film per se, but it serves more to confuse than to engage the viewer. After that, the film still feels somewhat disorganized. Scenes from different training activities and the race itself are interspersed, with no clear indication of where any particular scene falls on the timeline of the season. It was quite confusing to me, and I\'m a serious bike racing fan with solid background on the sport; I suspect that for viewers who aren\'t familiar with the sport, it would have been a complete blur. The problem, I think, is that the filmmakers seem to have prioritized an artistic \"look and feel\" over conveying the actual events and topics clearly. A film that is committed to presenting its material with maximum clarity can still do very interesting things with the presentation, so we\'re not looking at an either-or situation; with Overcoming, I think that the filmmakers simply assumed that viewers would \"get it\" and didn\'t make any particular effort to make sure that the connection actually got made.
So far I\'ve been pretty hard on Overcoming, but in truth the film does shape up around the mid-point. Here, the jumbled artistic feel settles down, and it becomes clear that the film really centers on the personal and professional struggles of Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre. Once that focus is evident, the film as a whole makes a lot more sense, and I could settle down and appreciate what Overcoming shows about the real life of these elite cyclists. More than the simple daily details of the race, Overcoming documents the emotional life of the CSC team, and the mental challenges of being a professional rider.
In the end, Overcoming is worth watching, and I\'m glad I put up with the poor presentation of the early part of the film to get to the more substantial, focused content later on. However, I\'d certainly characterize it as a film primarily for viewers who are already fans of bicycle racing. If you\'re primarily interested in a glimpse into pro racing in general and the Tour de France in particular, you\'re better off watching Hell on Wheels. On the other hand, if you know who Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, and Bobby Julich are, and especially if you\'re a fan of the CSC team in general, you\'ll find Overcoming to be interesting.
* Hell On Wheels
The Tour de France Ã¢ï¿½ï¿½ the toughest bicycle race of all, celebrated its 100th birthday and Academy Award winning German based director Pepe Danquart was there to produce a terrific film on the T-Mobile Team. Danquart tells about the torture and the pain, the fear and the weaknesses of the men. Hell on Wheels offers a true insight into the Tour and stars the Telekom/T-Mobile team. We see the tear of those who are out of the race and the joy of those, who suffered but fulfilled their biggest dream, to reach the finish line....The film follows two German stars, Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel, six-time winner of the sprinters jersey as he battles out every stage with his Aussie rivals. Danquart picked a great year to document the race, as 2003 provided the most dramatic and exciting race for many decades. At 123 minutes, thereÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s plenty of time for history, for racing and for gorgeous French landscapes. But ultimately, itÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s the rider portraits that make the film unique and rewarding.
The film gives a review of the genesis and history of the Tour, shows the gigantic organization of the Tour, and the fanatic crowd along the route. Hell on Wheels presents an outstanding inner view of the Tour de France.
From DVDTalk.com Review:
Hell on Wheels is that rare documentary that can be fully enjoyed by both devoted fans and newcomers to the sport of cycling. Both will appreciate the way that the film captures the gritty feel of racing the Tour, showing what life is like for pro riders on a day-to-day basis, while fans will also get a kick out of the film\'s focus on one of cycling\'s great riders, Erik Zabel. Overall, Hell on Wheels has much the same flavor as the classic cycling documentary A Sunday in Hell (which covers the Paris-Roubaix race rather than the Tour de France), and viewers who enjoyed one of those will surely enjoy the other. I\'ll give Hell on Wheels a solid across-the-board \"highly recommended\" rating.