[Last Film I Watched] Death of a Cyclist (1955)

Death of a Cyclist poster

English Title: Death of a Cyclist
Original title: Muerte de un ciclista
Year: 1955
Country: Spain, Italy
Language: Spanish
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller
Director: Juan Antonio Bardem
Writers:
Juan Antonio Bardem
Luis Fernando de Igoa
Music: Isidro B. Maiztegui
Cinematography: Alfredo Fraile
Cast:
Lucia Bosé
Alberto Closas
Bruna Corrà
Carlos Casaravilla
Otello Toso
Alicia Romay
Julia Delgado Caro
Rating: 6.4/10

Spanish writer-director J.A. Bardem’s (yes, he was the uncle of Javier Bardem from maternal side) guilty conscience drama stars Italian belle Lucia Bosé as Maria Jose, a young woman who is married with a rich husband Miguel (Toso), but on the quiet, she rekindles the affair with her old flame Juan (Closas), who is stuck in a job as a university’s adjunct professor, which he doesn’t like, by dint of nepotism which he also consciously detests.

In the stark opening shots, we see a cyclist insouciantly riding out of the low-hanging frame, then a vintage car rushes from the opposite side, and it abruptly stops, viewers don’t directly witness the accident, it is Maria Jose, who is in the driver’s seat with Juan riding the shotgun, they are heading back to the city from their regular tryst, and manifestly, Bardem informs us Juan is the one, whose conscience encourages him to rescue the still-breathing cyclist, but Maria Jose, in a classic femme fatale mould, simply nips the idea with her dour look and both leave hurriedly from the scene, hoping that they haven’t been seen by any curious onlookers.

Lucky for them, it turns out nobody witnesses the accident (claims by the newspaper), the cyclist died, but paranoia starts to gnaw at the two lovers, a slimy art critic Rafa (Casaravilla), a frequent guest of upper-class parties which Maria Jose and Miguel often hang out at, or sometimes host, sneakily suggests that he has seen and known something despicable between Maria Jose and Juan, which drastically pesters a high-strung Maria Jose; while Juan, distracted by the escalating guilt, one-sidedly halts the exam of a student Matilde (Corrà), which eventually stimulates a mass protest from the students, yet, on a brighter side, it reignites Juan’s derailed moral sense, he prepares to convince Maria Jose to turn themselves in for the crime, but, is she ready to give up all the glittering trappings of an affluent marriage? The reactions to the opening accident presage the film’s finale, regardless, they must pay for their misdeeds, Jardem will use whatever comes handy to let poetic justice reign in the upshot.

It seems that subtlety and rhetoric is not Jardem’s strongest suit, adorned by a neorealism-inspired efficiency and highly expressive close-ups to follow the characters’ movements and actors’ (sometimes hammy, I’m not referring to you Mr. Casaravilla) delivery, the film sticks to a conventional and even somewhat stiff narrative arc without intricacy to animate the pair’s doomed downward spiral (admittedly, my eyelids were struggling for separation in the scenes where Juan experiences a facile epiphany), a doe-eyed Closas and an over-mature Bosé cry out for the potency of their professed affection, which should’ve made the denouement more poignant. Overall, DEATH OF A CYCLIST stings as Jardem’s diatribe against the decaying and morally-corrupted upper-class of Spain under Franco’s dictatorship, only it seems a shade stilted from the eyes of a today’s first-time viewer.

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