Monday, September 26, 2011

Il momento della verità

Every time I see a Francesco Rosi film I wonder how is it possible he is not better known. Even among cinephiles he doesn't get his due. Of course, his films are hard to come by so that certainly plays a part.

Il momento della verità [aka The Moment of Truth] is not one of his well known films but thanks to Criterion / Hulu Plus it is now available. And what a masterful film it is.

The basic story is that of an Andalusian farm boy who in order to get out of poverty moves to Barcelona to become a bullfighter. The film is both a documentary and a feature film. The bullfighting scenes, as well as various bullfighting festivities - such as bulls running through crowds and plowing into spectators - are all real. Very real. When the bull is gored and blood spills profusely out of his mouth it is all real. And disturbing. Yet it is this authenticity that makes the film all the more effective.

Despite the narrative arc about the young man's rise to fame this is not a film about bullfighting so much as a neo-realist film [in color] about the travails of the working poor in Spain circa 1965. It shows us in blunt terms that the choices are limited. If you are a male you can remain on the farm working just to survive or you can go to the city and work for someone who forwards you money, which you then become indebted to thus never really getting ahead. Or, if you are a fearless and athletic young man, you can try bullfighting and makes a good living - albeit one that is very risky.

It should be noted this film could not have been made in the mid 60's by a Spanish filmmaker due to the Franco dictatorship. So it took Rosi - an Italian - along with his great cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, shooting the documentary scenes with a 16mm silent, color camera - to get it done. The fictional scenes were - I believe - shot in 35mm as they could be under controlled direction.

The actor who plays the lead is a real [legendary] bullfighter named Miguel Mateo 'Miguelín' and he is truly amazing to watch. Not only in the way he handles the cape and the muleta but in some of the scenes in which he brushes up against the bull and pats him on the head before eventually thrusting the sword [estoque] into the bull's shoulder blade are astonishing.

It is evident from the first moment he steps into the ring that he has talent. In fact, if the film has one weakness it is believing that a peasant can come from a farm and in such a short time become such an accomplished torero. Nonetheless, since the time it takes for him to become a bullfighter is never really established it is a minor point.

As in most all Rosi films the hero's demise is imminent. Most Rosi film's actually begin with the main character's death and then go back in time to show us what lead up to that death. This film begins with a ceremony from Holy Week - shot as a documentary giving us a full flavor of Spain in that period - and then dives into the story.

Rosi and Di Venanzo frame shots beautifully. And the editing of the documentary scenes with that of the fictional scenes are both convincing and compelling. Particularly so because the main actor is often in both making for a smooth transition. Of course, the film is dubbed into Italian from what appears Spanish. But it is so visually rich, well paced and put together that dialogue becomes secondary to the overall effect.

This is a terrific film with a sound political message. It's also has the best [and brutal] bullfighting scenes I've seen in a movie. I am glad Criterion has made it available on Hulu Plus.

Postscript: Bullfighting has been banned in parts of Spain.

Update: Soon to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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