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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Juan Antonio Bardem: Muerte de un ciclista (1955)

A couple having an affair strike a bicyclist with their car and do not offer aid out of fear of their relationship being exposed.

Juan is an academic, his career stalled, teaching at the university because of his brother-in-law's prestige. María José is a socialite, married to wealth, bored but attached to her comforts. The two are lovers. On an isolated country road, their car strikes a cyclist; fearing exposure, they leave him to die. Distracted, Juan unjustly fails a student. Rafa, a bitter savant in their social circle, hints that he knows something, and he threatens to expose them to María José's husband, Miguel. Miguel's pride may be the lovers' best hope. Then Juan proposes a solution.

This is a movie that gains with each new watching, as you appreciate more and more its refined construction. Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) is a complex artwork, operating on multiple levels. There is a faux policier: we know the crime and the criminals from the very beginning, no authority will ever suspect them; only a freaking blackmailer pretends to know something, and nobody seems interested in what he actually knows. There is a film noir, which mounts to the next level of Muerte de un ciclista: a study of the Spanish society of the fifties, with no personage interested at all in any moral values. There is another level in this movie: a Dostoyewskian evolution of the male lead, running in parallel with the life of the other personages; here the craft of Juan Antonio Bardem is exquisite - the two stories run in the same time without any interference. There is the political stance, expressed with much subtlety: after all, it is the Spain of Franco, with an official ideology based on strict Catholic values, while everybody in the movie is guided by a total amoral philosophy of life.

And over all these levels, Muerte de un ciclista is a subtle reference to some pages of the history of cinema, a universe continuously reflecting different other universes, thriller, film noir, neo-realism, political movie, existential drama, like the movement of clouds on the sky in a summer afternoon. You'll be surprised: it calls in mind another Spanish masterpiece, made much later, in 2004, La mala educación.

(Juan Antonio Bardem)



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