Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Death of a Cyclist

Written and directed by Juan Antonio Bardem from a story by Luis Fernando de Igoa, Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) is the story of a wealthy socialite and a university professor whose affair caused the death of an unknown cyclist as local wonders who killed them believing something isn’t right. The film is an exploration of a couple whose tryst would cause trouble as it play into growing tension into their own lives as well as the different social classes they live in. Starring Lucia Bose and Alberto Closas. Muerte de un ciclista is an evocative yet eerie film from Juan Antonio Bardem.

On their way back to town, a university professor and his wealthy socialite mistress had hit a cyclist on their way as they would leave him for dead only for the news of the cyclist’s death to emerge with questions about what happened. It’s a film that takes its simple premise of a hit-and-run where no one knows what happened other than this couple who are having an affair. Juan Antonio Bardem’s screenplay opens with the incident as the main story is about the aftermath where Juan Fernandez Soler (Alberto Closas) and Maria Jose de Castro (Lucia Bose) are both in separate places following this hit-and-run accident with the former at home with his mother and the latter at a party with her husband Miguel (Otello Toso) that also features their friend Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) who saw Juan and Maria on their way which makes Maria uneasy.

Throughout the course of the film, Juan and Maria struggle to see each other as their own individual lives are also becoming complicated with Juan causing trouble at his job as a professor in a university where he unknowingly gives one of his students a failing grade. It adds to the dramatic tension where a party that Juan, Maria, Miguel, and Rafa attend turn into trouble with Rafa making claims about what he saw as it raises the drama where there is also this internal conflict that looms as well as what Juan and Maria would lose if the truth does come out. Juan is aware of what is at stake but he is consumed with guilt while Maria is unsure about what she is willing to sacrifice as it’s become a big discussion for the film’s third act.

Bardem’s direction definitely feature some striking compositions into the way he presents a world of different social classes and this air of morality that looms within the social classes. Shot in rural and countryside areas near Madrid, Bardem uses the locations as this divide among social classes where both Juan and Maria live in lavish homes while there is a middle class that is happening in towns and at the university while the person they killed is likely from the lower class where Juan goes to the man’s apartment to find his widow. Bardem would use some wide shots to not just get a scope of the locations including the landscapes and scenes shot from a roof or at a building floor. It is also to play into this growing disconnect between the social classes with Juan consumed and Maria slowly unraveling as it relates to what Rafa knows. The medium shots help play into the interaction with the characters while Bardem’s close-ups add to the emotional tension that looms throughout the film. The film’s third act as it relates to the investigation and possible outcome also play into this desire for redemption but also temptation as it is driven by guilt as well as what two people would do to save themselves and make things right. Overall, Bardem crafts a mesmerizing yet haunting film about an adulterous couple dealing with murder.

Cinematographer Alfredo Fraile does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it has a gorgeous look for many of the exteriors in the day while playing up to the artificiality in some of the party scenes while aiming for something natural for one scene in the church as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Margarita de Ochoa does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward while it features these inventive transitions that help create these unusual shift from one sequence to another. Set decorator Enrique Alarcon does terrific work with the interiors of the classroom that Juan teaches at as well as the homes of Miguel and Juan. The sound work of Alfonso Carvajal does nice work with the sound as it is largely straightforward in the way certain objects sound on location or in the atmosphere of a party scene. The film’s music by Isidro B. Maiztegui is incredible for its haunting musical score of strings and piano as it help heighten the suspense and drama as it’s another highlight of the film.

The film’s superb cast feature a few notable small roles from Alicia Romay as Juan’s sister Carmina, Julia Delgado Caro as Juan’s mother, and Manuel Alexandre as a cyclist. Bruna Corra is fantastic as Juan’s student Matilde whom Juan accidentally gives a poor grade to as she becomes concerned about his behavior where she knows something is up. Carlos Casaravilla is excellent as Rafa as an acquaintance of Maria who loves to gossip as he knows a secret about Maria that he wants to reveal where he would stir things up badly.

Otello Toso is amazing as Maria’s husband Miguel as a man who doesn’t suspect much until Rafa starts to open his mouth as he is someone that is rich and a lot of control hoping to maintain his stature as a man of importance. Alberto Closas is marvelous as Juan Fernandez Soler as a university professor who is consumed with guilt as he tries to get to know whom he killed as he also deals with what might happen as well as wanting to protect Maria and coming to some harsh conclusions about what he must do. Finally, there’s Lucia Bose in a phenomenal performance as Maria Jose de Castro as a socialite whose life unravels slowly following the hit-and-run that killed the cyclist as she tries to get on with her life where Bose displays the anguish of her character even though her voice is dubbed by Spanish actress Elsa Fabregas as Bose does manage to play into a woman struggling with what to do for herself and Juan.

Muerte de un ciclista is a sensational film from Juan Antonio Bardem that features great performances from Lucia Bose and Alberto Closas. Along with its gorgeous visuals, eerie music score, and themes of guilt and social classes. The film is a fascinating study of two people who deal with killing someone as well as ponder if their social status can protect them while later dealing with the guilt of their actions. In the end, Muerte de un ciclista is a tremendous film from Juan Antonio Bardem.

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

I added this to my Netflix queue, it sounds really interesting. Kind of reminds me of one of Black Mirror's episodes without the social status part.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I think it's available on the Criterion Channel as it's worth seeking out as it was a big surprise for me. Oh, I should note that the man who directed this film is Javier Bardem's uncle.