BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Nov 30th, 2008 •

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Late night. Low visibility. A lone car hits a lone cyclist. The two occupants of the car leave the injured man to die. They are not callous people, just cautious: their affair cannot be disclosed. The driver, Maria Jose (Lucia Bose), is a wealthy married lady, and her lover, Juan (Alberto Closas), a university professor. Later on, during a cocktail party, it becomes apparent that the desolate road where the accident occurred wasn’t completely uninhabited, and their rendezvous are not entirely clandestine. The sly and roguish socialite/art critic Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) threatens to reveal the couple’s “un-pretty” secrets. The shadow of un-prevented death overflows the conscience of the teacher. The jeopardy of losing everything blinds the mind of his mistress. Fear and guilt gradually meld into a final tragedy.

Overloaded with contemporary American cinematic works, my memory of the most valued and cherished film experiences became diluted. DEATH OF A CYCLIST resurrected my devoted love for the neorealist and classic noir movies. The traces of both styles are quite palpable in this melodrama that marked the birth of modern Spanish cinema. The unhurried pace of the narrative, the growing, subdued tension, the long, uninterrupted shots, the atmosphere of decadent private lives within a strongly-defined, decadent social background, create an effect of total absorption, and an awareness that the art of cinema has been manifested again.

Juan Antonio Bardem made this socially critical film in 1955, while living under the Franco regime. The exceptionally well-shot, contrasting milieus of the rich and poor districts of Madrid, is a very acute, politically charged reflection of the reality of the time. No wonder the film was censored and the director, ostracized.

Bardem skillfully employs the stylistic devices of commercial Hollywood (from which he tries to break) to his advantage. There are lots of glamorous close-ups of the stars – Lucia Bose and Alberto Closas, going though their emotional upheavals, making the film visually somewhat familiar and acceptable for censors. But at the same time this exaggerated attention emphasizes the distructive self-absorption and utter egoism of the bourgeoisie, framing the target for Bardem’s ideological spears.

In the documentary on the life and career of Juan Antonio Bardem (“Calle Bardem”) which is the part of the DVD, his contemporaries – directors, writers, actors, teachers – tell about the artist being an active member of Spain’s Communist party, about his self-imposed mission to translate political ideas into cinema, about his influences and affiliations, his triumphs and failures.

Bardem’s frequently quoted words about the Spanish cinema of the mid-fifties as “politically ineffective, socially false, intellectually worthless, aesthetically nonexistent and industrially crippled” were completely turned around with the DEATH OF A CYCLIST.

Seeing the film today gives viewers a fantastic excursion into both world history and cinema history, in addition to delivering the sheer pleasure of experiencing a classic masterpiece.

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