Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Film #15 of 2010 - Death of a Cyclist
J.A. Bardem's 1955 film Death of a Cyclist begins with a bang, literally. On an abandoned road, a man on his bicycle is struck by a speeding car, and as he lays dying in the road, is examined, then left by the culprits. The offenders are Maria (Lucia Bose) and Juan (Alberto Closas), who are afraid to help the man and risk being found out. You see, Maria and Juan are having an affair, and Maria is married to Miguel (Otello Oso), a powerful industrialist who carries a high position in society, a privilege that Maria is not ready to give up. Maria and Juan nervously await news of the accident over the next several days, until they are threatened by a blackmailer who runs in their circle. Juan, an assistant mathematics professor, and Maria must decide how they are going to proceed, and choose between morality and their current lives - a decision which ends up being easy for both of them, but their paths are not the same.
Death of a Cyclist is a cross between Film Noir and Neo Realism, in that it is dark and gritty, but also a searing social commentary about the greed and power of the rich. The depth of this film is immense; in fact, I watched it a few days ago and I'm still philosophically turning it around in my head. Maria seeks to balance her marriage of convenience to Miguel and all of the wealth, power and status that comes with it, with her relationship with Juan, an intellectual who isn't concerned about those things. Though both have opposing philosophies, their individual motivations end up being their undoing. Bardem, who also wrote the film, pulls no punches in his indictment of the upper class, invoking elements of Marxism and Socialism, another common theme Neo Realism.
Filmed in stark black and white, and containing some amazing imagery (particularly a short scene at a circus that was literally breathtaking) Death of a Cyclist was both thought provoking and beautiful to look at. Watching this film, I was reminded how much great cinema is waiting to be explored, and they just need to be sought out. Plus, it has a fantastic ending.
4 stars out of 5