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Death of a Cyclist – Roll Film
Death of a Cyclist
Muerte de un ciclista; a.k.a., Age of Infidelity
Roll Film! Bicycle-themed film reviews by Greg Borzo.
Available for free at http://video.aol.com/video-detail/muerte-de-un-ciclista/3893194935
Death of a Cyclist, a 1955 noir film from Spain, shows that at that time and place it was no big deal to kill a cyclist with a car because the cyclist was likely to be poor and of no social consequence, while the driver was likely to be wealthy and well-connected. Similarly today, it seems that killing cyclists is an acceptable part of our automobile-centered society. Collateral damage.
In Death of a Cyclist, a woman driver carelessly runs over a bicyclist and then leaves him for dead because she is afraid that calling for help will reveal the long-standing love affair she is having with a man in her car. This storyline may sound familiar because it is said to have inspired Tom Wolfe’s 1987 bestseller The Bonfire of the Vanities.
The man in this suspenseful morality tale showed some reluctance to flee the scene. Later he struggles with guilt, especially after reading in the newspaper that the cyclist died. The woman, however, struggles more with her fear that if the crime is revealed she will fall from her privileged social and financial position in society. She is married to a wealthy industrialist, although the marriage has left her bored and shallow.
This is not a story like Crime and Punishment. Rather than guilt and remorse, this beautifully photographed, neorealist film deals with class and privilege. Although a bicycle makes only two significant appearances in this film (in the first and last scenes), the lowly two-wheeler plays the pivotal role. It represents underprivileged people. Not only do such people ride inexpensive, low-status vehicles, but their lives are apparently not as important as the lives of the rich and influential. This is made clear by the flippant way that high-society people read the newspaper article about the death of the cyclist and by the perfunctory investigation into the killing.
Death of a Cyclist is director Juan Antonio Bardem’s best film. In fact, it is amazing that this film was ever released in Franco’s Spain because it is a harsh indictment of that corrupt, highly stratified society. A similar case could be made of our materialistic culture, which is skewed in favor of SUVs, “light” trucks, and expensive cars—and the people who drive around in these metal and glass bubbles of wealth and privilege.
It was probably no accident that Juan Bardem named the protagonist of his film “Juan.” Franco had Bardem imprisoned umpteen times for his political beliefs, and Juan in the film is thoughtful and politically astute.
This masterpiece uses a bicycle to raise important, perennial issues, particularly in the film’s two most important scenes: the shocking beginning and the disturbing ending. Or is the ending transcendent? That just might depend on your view of bicyclists.
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