Saturday, March 9, 2013

THE CYCLIST (Iranian) (1987)

‘Usually People like to categorize artists. With my films I categorize people: if I know which one of my movies you like, I can tell which kind of person you are.’   
- Mohsen Makhmalbaf

There are two circular motions creating claustrophobia and vertigo effects on screen as the film begins. The first and physically visible one on screen is a motorcyclist stuntman driving a bike inside a wooden well in a local fair. The other one runs psychologically as thoughts inside the head of a middle aged man named Nasim whose wife is gravely ill  and all he need is good hospital and money to get her treated there. What better way one can start a film about a desperate cyclist man who’s fighting and challenging his physical and mental capabilities beyond limits against all odds! The beginning is just a  pointer!

The protagonist of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s ‘The Cyclist’, Nasim is an illegal Afghani immigrant surviving in Iran digging oil wells on daily meager wages until he faced an emergency to earn an unreasonable amount of money to treat his near dying illness of his beloved wife. He’s accompanied by a son and starts hunted for different jobs but unable to raise money until finally a circus promoter recognized his skill of consecutive cycling endurance record of three days. Nasim agrees to ride a bicycle for seven days without a break. He’s supposed to eat, drink, urinate only on cycle. His act slowly starts bringing audience sharing the same fate but as Nasim going to gain a moral support against his physical strain & endeavor, his singular effort is subverted by street vendors, fortune tellers and political agitators who exploit the sideshow attraction for their own gain. Its really become brutal manipulation for Nasim when he becomes the bait (read scapegoat) between two businessman. His personal struggle becomes a cruel game of manipulation by anonymous strangers who will spare nothing to ensure their own gain.    

The narrative and pace of the film is languid and it has certain jarring editing cuts but
Makhmalbaf constantly keep shifting the narrative Point of view to show the motivations of minor characters supplying some light moments with heavy drama. The repetitive circular imagery of cycle is an imagery of banality of routine life and still it keeps moving expecting hope for better days. There are moments in ‘The Cyclist’ where emotional manipulation grew stronger and stronger days after days but Makhmalbaf added the poetic grace in its entirety. The space between an individual and society and the exploration of human despair, exploitation, resilience and final hope is deeply affecting and universal in Makhmalbaf cinema. And that is the beauty.


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