A Sunday in Hell (En Forårsdag i Helvede) (1976)




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This at once empathetic, mythological approach to cycle racing (with a shift towards a simpler narration) is the same as that of Stars and Watercarriers, but for A Sunday in Hell Jørgen Leth had more than 20 camera units and a helicopter at his disposal. The film follows the French Paris-Roubaix spring classic, notorious for the hellish paves or cobbled roads of the north "which are no longer used for civilised traffic but only for transporting cattle - and for cycle races". We are there from the dawn preparations and rituals on the outskirts of Paris and through the rigours of the race with special focus on a number of prominent cyclists to the final outcome on the Roubaix cycle track - followed by the filthy riders taking their showers. There is also an eye for life among the spectators and the media event as such. The chronology is maintained as a basic principle; for this reason the large number of cameramen had to film their watches before each shot. The film alternates among different kinds of shot with a view to establishing the most suitable view of the narrative: shots from motorcycles, which are able to convey the motion of the race and provide close ups of the riders in the style of television cycle race reporting; fixed cameras stationed at strategically important points along the route, where viewers can watch riders passing in real time and thus gain a clear overview of the distance between the leaders and the main field: and the Olympian eye of the helicopter shots. Gunner Møller Pedersen's music and a very lively sound picture serve the drama and members of the chorus of the Royal Danish Opera use the words "Paris - Roubaix - L'enfer du nord" to add a patina of the sublime. The images of the riders crossing the misshapen cobble sin enormous clouds of dust deserves emphasis as one of the most powerful images ever captured from the world of cycling.


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