A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, April 25, 2016

Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955)

Often cited as a landmark in Spanish cinema, Death of a Cyclist is notable for the way director Bardem (uncle of the actor Javier Bardem) manages to slip a satiric look at the Spanish upper classes past Franco's censors by tucking it into a suspense thriller. He often does this by startling jump cuts: The protagonist, Juan (Alberto Closas), looks down into the courtyard of a slum, but what we see are people attending a society wedding. The gossip Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) angrily throws a bottle, but the window that breaks is miles away at the university where a student protest is taking place. The film is full of linkages like this, including the fact that Juan bears a striking resemblance to the man he is cuckolding, Miguel (Otello Toso). Sometimes, of course, Bardem and his co-scenarist Luis Fernando de Igoa make their satire more explicit, as when a society woman says she's supporting a charity "for poor children, or maybe for stupid children." Her distance from the objects of her charity is a comic twist on the distance that allows María (Lucia Bosé) to persuade Juan that they should leave the scene after they run down a cyclist on a lonely road at night: They are having an affair, and she doesn't want to get caught. Bardem doesn't show the actual accident or even the body of the cyclist (who is still alive after they leave the scene), leaving us to judge the couple as their guilt begins to mount -- even though they are never in any danger of being accused of the hit-and-run crime. The film continues to unfold as a saga of crime and self-punishment, made richer by Bardem's careful manipulation of point of view.