Juan is an academic, his career stalled, teaching at the university because of his brother-in-law's prestige. María José is a socialite, married to wealth, bored but attached to her comforts. The two are lovers. On an isolated country road, their car strikes a cyclist; fearing exposure, they leave him to die. Distracted, Juan unjustly fails a student. Rafa, a bitter savant in their social circle, hints that he knows something, and he threatens to expose them to María José's husband, Miguel. Miguel's pride may be the lovers' best hope. Then Juan proposes a solution.Written by
The car Maria and Juan are in when they hit the cyclist is a 1952 Fiat 1400. See more »
Around the 40 minute mark, when Juan calls Maria Jose on the telephone, she is wearing white gloves, then a second later, no gloves, then she is wearing the gloves for the rest of the scene. See more »
It's a great premise, and director Juan Antonio Bardem plunges us immediately into the drama of a pair of lovers who accidentally hit a bicyclist on a deserted road and then just leave him to die. As the story unfolds, we find out more these people and the setting itself. The man (Alberto Closas) is a math professor who got his job through his powerful brother-in-law, and the woman (Lucia Bosè) has been his lover since before the Spanish Civil War, but who left him while he was off fighting it in order to marry into wealth and a higher social standing. Both are thus privileged, but somewhat morally compromised even before the accident. By contrast, the victim is from a much more humble background, which we see when the professor tries to visit his widow. Still later, we find that the place where the accident occurred, on a road through a barren landscape, was also where the professor had been fighting in the war, and there is clearly meaning in that fact. (As an aside, the landscape may remind you of the 1973 Spanish film 'The Spirit of the Beehive', and there is something eerie and sad about these films made under authoritarian rule that seem to show the devastation of the spirit via this type of scenery.)
The pair are threatened when a pianist/art critic (Carlos Casaravilla) begins making oblique comments hinting that he knows something, and then later when the pair disagree about whether to admit what they've done or not. This tension is strong in the beginning, but falters a bit with an unnecessary subplot involving one of the professor's students, as well as in becoming a bit too much of a morality tale. It's also pretty clear what the art critic knows, but the pretense for ambiguity is carried on a little too long, and this interesting subplot and character aren't taken advantage of in better ways. It picks up towards the end though, with Bosè delivering some great moments through the coolness of her eyes, and a dramatic finish.
The film makes social points in showing how far the wealthy will go to obtain or maintain their position, and you can see in it political commentary too. After the war, society is stratified in unfair ways, with a big gap between the powerful and the poor, and indeed, the powerful can sometimes believe they are above the law. The scene of the crime being near a battlefield seems to mean that this horrifying but relatively small act is a microcosm of much larger crimes having been committed against Spain, or something along those lines. Seen from that perspective, perhaps the ending is less the natural conclusion of a morality tale, and more a subversive message, which was interesting to think about. It's when I consider these aspects and the courage it took for Bardem to make films like this under Franco that I liked 'Death of a Cyclist' best. As just a drama alone, it's probably just average, but it could be rated higher because of this context.
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