Cinema Slueth – Death of a Cyclist

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation:  A film noir crossed with social realism and loaded with political symbolism; and considered revolutionary in 1955 Spain.

Death of a Cyclist is a 1955 social realist Spanish drama film directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, produced by Manuel Goyanes and released by Janus Films. Based on a story by Luis Fernando de Igoa, screenplay was written by the director Badrem himself.

Its Spanish title is Muerte de un ciclista and received FIPRESCI Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. The film had Lucia Bose, Alberto Closas, Carlos Casaravilla and Otello Tosco in the lead cast.

Juan Fernandez Soler (portrayed by Alberto Closas) and Maria Jose (portrayed by Lucia Bose) while returning from their adulterous rendezvous hit a cyclist whom they leave to die. The anxiety of the crime and the impact it has on their personal lives follows the rest of the movie.

Lucia Bose was an Italian actress and her voice was dubbed into Spanish by Spanish actress Elsa Fabregas as she wasn’t fluent in Spanish. She was 16 when she was crowned Miss Italia in 1947, and went into films three years later.

Alberto Closas was already a famous star in South America when he came to Spain to make this film. He did the role of Juan Fernandez Soler who goes through a series of inner fights and reflects on his own life choices.

Carlos Casaravilla is Rafael “Rafa” Sandoval, a cynical and self-loathing art critique who wants to “purify” the upper class by exposing the treachery, lechery and other social evils that upper class flaunt proudly.

The movie summary snippet given on TCM channel reminded me of 2019 Indian Hindi-language mystery thriller Badla (= Revenge). But the story was very different except for the accident and the adulterous affair.

The film also shows how upper class are obsessed with power and will do anything and go to any extent to keep that power and their position in the society. It is a soup of irony, sarcasm, revenge, revelations, social satire and paranoia, all blended into a masala filled spicy film. Comedy and terror go in parallel in every scene. The irony is not lost in one scene specially when Jaun is walking back from the lower class place, several cyclists pass by him.

Hidden behind the noir concept of crime and passion, the director/writer also brought forth the oppressive ruling of Spanish ruler Francisco Franco; and the wide gap between the affluent upper class and struggling lower class. He balances the social realism with Hollywood noir style precariously on a thin bar, and yet proved to come out with a successful recipe.

It didn’t get good reviews in US when it was first released, although had been accoladed all over Europe. However, it has since received a cult following. This was presented on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel in November 2022 under the Noir Alley series.

A film noir crossed with social realism and loaded with political symbolism; and considered revolutionary in 1955 Spain. Splendid direction with magnificent players giving us a thriller that examines morality and social status while struggling over the guilt.

Spoiler Alerts:

Movie Trivia:

  1. One of the item in the newsreel prior to a picture that Juan watches talks about a fire that cost Bardem Stores $800,000. Bardem is the director/writer of this film, so that is a fictional news with his name as a cameo appearance. 🙂
  2. The original ending of the film had Maria kill Juan and join her husband – the effect that writer/director Bardem was going was to show that upper class get away with anything. But censors objected for it, and wanted him to redirect the scene to show consequences so it would appeal to audience’s morality.
  3. For his political satire in the film and his outspoken words against the ruling class at that time, Bardem was imprisoned by Francisco Franco on political grounds. He was in jail when this film was honored in the Cannes Film Festival. But this incident haunted him and hunted him for several years.
  4. Actor Javier Bardem is the nephew of the writer / director Juan Antonio Bardem.

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