Cycling offers some of the most intense stories of endurance and personal struggle in sport, so its no wonder that the world of cinema has chosen these incredible athletes and their iconic machines as their subject matter many times over the years. Between them these three movies have been nominated for three Oscars, won critical acclaim from all corners and no doubt inspired many people to pick up an iron steed and get into this gruelling but rewarding sport.
Les Triplets Des Belville
A surreal delight, this achingly French animation is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish – packed with brilliant musical songs and top-notch slapstick visual comedy that calls back to the 1930s cinema of its period setting.
Les Triplet des Belville, or La Bellville Rendezvous as it was called in many countries, tells the story of Madame Souza and her cyclist grandson Champion. After discovering his talent on the wheels of steel at a young age, Champion finally manages to get into Tour de France. However, not long into his first race he is kidnapped into a gambling scheme by the French Mafia. Of course, Madame De Souza, and Champion’s aging overweight dog Bruno, set out to rescue the young rider – accompanied by the titular Triplets of Bellville, a trio of jazz singers from the city.
Told almost entirely through song and mime, this is truly a masterpiece of animation by itself, let alone as a film that reveres cycling at the centre of the story. Les Triplets De Belleville was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Animated Feature and Best Original Soundtrack for this jazzy number, although it lost to Finding Nemo and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, respectively.
A Sunday in Hell
This Danish documentary chronicles the 1967 Paris Roubaix road race, which is one of the oldest and hardest single day cycling races in the world. Featuring legendary rider Eddy Merckx amongst a host of other top names from the sport, A Sunday In Hell doesn’t shy away from the often-grim reality of a tough race such as this.
Director Jørgen Leth’s camera never hides from bone crunching crashes, hacking dust clouds and even protestors who try to halt the race – but ultimately it tells an uplifting story about the true competitor’s desire to win at almost any personal cost.
Winner of the 1979 Academy Award for Best Screenplay, this coming of age comedy is widely regarded as one of the greatest sports movies of all time – and a small town American classic regardless of genre. It follows a tight-knit group of late teens in the town of Bloomington, Indiana, in the early 70s. Their leader, Dave, is obsessed with Italian culture and specifically cycling.
Using that knowledge, Dave pretends to be an Italian exchange student to seduce a local University girl. When her friends find out, this causes a vendetta – which culminates with the University Dean asking Dave and the University students to compete in a bike race to squash the beef. A true ode to the enriching spirit of dedication that cycling can provide in a young person’s life, Breaking Away is a 70s classic that is well worth checking out.