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A Selection of Great Bicycle Films

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

There have been many films featuring bicycles, both fictional and documentary. Here are some of the best.

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

The best of all bicycle movies is also one of the greatest films ever made. Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief takes place in postwar Rome, when Italy was still reeling from the effects of World War II and jobs were scarce. A poor family man finds a job hanging posters around the city, for which a bicycle is necessary. His wife sells the family’s linens to buy back his bike from a pawn shop, but it is soon stolen. He and his son then search the city to find the thief and the bike, before he loses his job. The film uses the bicycle, its theft and the long search for it to explore the effects of the war on Italian society. The film won an honorary Academy Award as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the US in 1949, a Golden Globe for best foreign film, and the 1950 BAFTA for Best Film of the year.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This hugely popular French animated comedy film tells the story of Madame Souza, an elderly woman who goes on a quest to rescue her grandson Champion, a Tour de France cyclist who has been kidnapped by the French mafia for gambling purposes and taken to the fictional city of Belleville (though there is a district of Paris with that name). She is accompanied by Champion’s loyal and very fat dog, Bruno, and joined by the Triplets of Belleville, music hall singers from the 1930s, whom she meets in the city. The film, which has little dialogue, was highly praised by audiences and critics for its unique style of animation and was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song for “Belleville Rendez-vous”. It was also screened out of competition at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

Wadjda (2012)

This film was truly groundbreaking as it was the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director, Haifaa al-Monsour. It won numerous awards at festivals around the world and was also the first Saudi film ever submitted as an official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The film concerns a 10-year-old Saudi girl living in the capital Riyadh who dreams of owning a green bicycle she sees in a store window every day on her way to school because she wants to race against her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighborhood. But, of course, riding bikes is frowned upon for girls in Saudi Arabia and Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy one for her daughter. The film touches on many aspects of Saudi society but (spoiler alert) eventually her mother buys the green bicycle for Wadjda and she beats Abdullah in a race.

Bicycle Dreams (2009)

Bicycle Dreams is a documentary film about the Race Across America, a 3000-mile (4,828 km) cross-country bicycle race which won won numerous film festival awards. The movie covers the 2005 edition of the race and focuses on several riders, including Jure Robic, Bob Breedlove, Cat Berge, Christopher MacDonald, and Patrick Autissier. It follows the riders from the starting line in San Diego as they encounter difficult weather, challenging terrain and tragedy when Breedlove is killed in a head-on collision with a pickup truck. The other riders must deal with the aftermath of the accident and decide whether to continue the race.

A Sunday in Hell (1976)

This Danish documentary about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix one-day race has been called the best film ever made about professional road racing. It captures not just the events of the race but also the unique atmosphere of a professional race. Paris–Roubaix is one of the most dramatic of the spring classics, with much of the race going over narrow, cobblestone paths that are dusty on dry days and muddy and dangerously slick in the rain. It follows such riders as Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck (the previous year’s winner), Freddy Maertens and Francesco Moser and their supporting riders, whose task it is to help their team leader win. After the race, some of the exhausted riders, covered in dirt, give interviews in the showers.


And, just for fun, here is a clip from a 1923 silent film showing the comedian Buster Keaton on a running bike: