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The Cyclist
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Produced by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Music by Madjid Entezami
Cinematography by Ali Reza Zarrindast
Editing by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Release Date 1987
Running Time 95 min.
Language Persian
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The Cyclist
(Bicycleran)

Because Nasim is an Afghani refugee who can barely provide for his family as an itinerant well-digger in Iran, he doesn’t have enough money to pay for the treatment that could spare his wife in the local hospital. Stuck in a health care system simply won’t tilt in the favor of a ragged immigrant, Nasim turns desperately to a few clumsy schemes in hope of landing a last-minute windfall.

They all fail, until a visionary event promoter convinces Nasim to ride his bike around a vacant lot for seven days straight. For a small admission free, the public could then come and watch this poor, sad man pedal his bike longer than any man has ever pedaled his bike. And in the end, his wife may live.

As Nasim was once an endurance cycling champion, he thinks this just may work. Vendors line the vacant lot. The public becomes embroiled in his last ditch effort against poverty, despair, and the system that may claim his beloved wife. Politicians and ideologues begin to ply their trade alongside Nasim’s worn track. The sick and infirm travel to the spectacle, hoping that some of Nasim’s rag-tag hope may rub off on their own recovery. When two wealthy businessmen bet a bundle against each other on Nasim’s success, various intrigues ensue. With tired eyes held open by toothpicks, Nasim continues to cycle against all odds, the tumult of these crowds increasingly defining the edge of his worn path.

Despite the specter of fear and injustice that make the film possible, The Cyclist is a masterpiece of hope. Makhmalbaf’s insistent realism only thinly veils the endless metaphor of the circle, which parallels the more general social cycles that make refugee life in Iran so difficult for people like Nasim and his wife.  Ending more like a parable than a spectacle, The Cyclist remains one of the most incisive appeals to justice and dignity produced by the Iranian New Wave.

—Michael Leary

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