There's something half-neorealist, half-Capraesque about Bicycleran as Nasim's stunt becomes an international controversy calling attention to the plight of jobless Afghan refugees in Iran. Different forces exert pressure to stop the stunt or draw crowds away -- employment agencies raise the daily wage offered to Afghan laborers from day to day -- while shadier characters wager on whether Nasim will finish and try to influence the result with firecrackers, nails under his tires, drugs, etc. In fact, he doesn't quite finish -- he collapses one night while the official observer is dozing off and an hooded ally takes his place for a while -- and finally doesn't quite know when to finish. In a bleak finish, the race seems to have obliterated Nasim's personality, while his original motive for the stunt has been rendered moot.
Bicycleran is most Capraesque in its melodramatic episodes when villains try to sabotage the stunt and in its elevation of Nasim into an Afghan-Iranian cinderella man, and is perhaps more evocatively than actually neorealist, insofar as neorealism as a cinematic movement had much to do with poor people and bicycles. But in a land where dance contests are probably illegal, Makhmalbaf has succeeded, for what it's worth, in translating the mock-epic despair of They Shoot Horses into an Iranian idiom. He also succeeded in making an often visually striking picture on an obviously limited budget. All the laps around tracks succeed as spectacle and symbol, and while this isn't exactly one of the great Iranian character studies, Makhmalbaf again proves that Iran's filmmakers, however disrespected by the clerico-political elite, are the country's best ambassadors, simply by portraying it, warts and all, as a modern nation of human beings.