« Citizen Dog | Main | Coffee Break »

August 31, 2007

Death of a Cyclist


Muerte de un Ciclista
Juan Antonio Bardem - 1955
Janus 35mm Film

Seeing Lucia Bose on the big screen is a good enough reason to have seen Death of a Cyclist. I was unaware of Bose until I recently saw Story of a Love Affair. Just twenty-four years old in 1955, Bose could have easily become as famous as such peers as Sophia Loren or Gina Lollabrigida had she not retired from stardom to get married that year.

Bardem’s film is about a man and woman who hide their hit and run accident in order to not reveal their affair. Even when the ending become too easy to anticipate during the last reel, Bose remains sympathetic as the woman who will do anything to protect her comfortable existence. Bardem's points about Spanish society cover familiar ground. The most Spanish aspect of the film is a scene where flamenco dancers perform for two American visitors. Otherwise, the story of a woman married to a wealthy man, and in love with a noble, but poorer man, is almost universal (or had Douglas Sirk made this film, Universal).

la muerte de un ciclista.jpg

One interesting visual motif employed by Bardem is a visual linking of scenes. The cigarette smoke of Bose's husband cuts to the cigarette smoke of her lover. A close up of Bose's face illuminated by the flames of a fireplace is cut with a shot of the fireplace at her lover’s home. A journalist friend throws a bottle at a window, but the window shown breaking is at the university where the lover is a teacher. Bardem also plays with the depth of field and perspective in the placement of his characters. The location of the accident, an empty field with a couple of bare trees, seems especially abstract. That field may be too obvious a metaphor for the emptiness of the lives of Bardem's main characters.

While what little writing I have found concerning Bardem discusses his work as being influenced by the Italian neo-realists, Death of a Cyclist suggests that the influence may not have been totally one way. Spanish cinema, especially of films and filmmakers prior to Saura and Almodovar, has been virtually ignored, save for the films of Bunuel. One of the more interesting English language articles on Bardem and Death of a Cyclist is to be found in The Hispanic Research Journal. Based on this one film, Juan Antonio Bardem may be, as Andrew Sarris would put it, a subject for further research.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 31, 2007 11:44 AM