The Cyclist, 1987

A poor, Afgan immigrant well digger named Nasim (Moharram Zaynalzadeh) distractedly watches on with his son as a friend performs his daredevil motorcycle act. Nasim’s thoughts are consumed by his gravely ill wife, and the hospital’s reluctance to continue to provide treatment without receiving payment for her incurred medical expenses. Unable to raise enough money from his itinerant work, Nasim unsuccessfully attempts to perpetrate several underhanded schemes – faking an attempted suicide behind the wheels of a bus and offering his services to drive a truck for a smuggling operation – before attracting the interest of an opportunistic circus promoter with his faded recognition as a former champion of a three day endurance bicycle marathon. Reluctantly, Nasim agrees to ride a bicycle continuously for seven days at a vacant lot. For the price of admission, the people can watch the painful tragedy of poverty and despair unfold before them, as Nasim’s dire circumstances are laid bare before the curious public. Soon, the sick and the dying are transported to the unusual show as an insincere means of eliciting false hopes and inciting courage for their own tragic plights. But even as Nasim begins to gain moral support for his endeavor, his singular effort is subverted by street vendors, fortune tellers, and political agitators who exploit the sideshow attraction for their own gain. When Nasim becomes the unwitting subject of a wager between two wealthy, well-connected businessmen, his personal struggle becomes a cruel game of manipulation by anonymous strangers who will spare nothing to ensure their own monetary victory.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf creates a spare and deeply affecting portrait of human despair, exploitation, and resilience in The Cyclist. Through the recurrent imagery of circles, Makhmalbaf provides a metaphor for the ritual of existence: the opening image of the motorcycle stunt, Nasim’s dehumanizing cycling exhibition, the children tossing flowers across Nasim’s path. Inevitably, Nasim’s determined quest transcends the spectacle of human misery to become an inexhaustible celebration for the triumph of the human spirit.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.