Criterion's release of film's of long-ago classics of film-making continues.This film by Bardem is a black and white morality tale by a communist director in a country with a fascist dictatorship,whose censorship had crippled the art of cinema and any progressive analysis of the situation.This is film as political weapon hidden under the cloak of metaphor.His call to arms,issued at Salamanca in 1955,is to his fellow directors.The film opens with lovers Juan (Alberto Closas) and Maria José (Lucia Bosé). Maria is behind the wheel of her car, colliding (unseen) into a man(also,tellingly,unseen)bicycling on a lonely stretch of country road.This pivotal moment highlights the divisions between the rich and the poor.The lovers pull up see the dying man and she calls Juan away.The faster they flee,the more the act follows them.This film has content:morality, conscience,guilt,fear of loss of status.Bardem shows us the rot at the core of Spanish ruling class life as if in a Jacobean tragedy.He uses neo-noir elements,post-neo-realism cum Hitchcockian melodrama.
She is a society hostess married to the rich man, Miguel(similar looking to Juan).She loves her creature comforts, but also her infidelity with Juan,a professor of maths,who she used to be engaged to prior to marriage. He is economically and professionally dependent upon his wealthy brother-in-law,who got him the job.The viper in their bosom is Rafael,the parasitical art critic and court jester,who divulges he `knows' about them,having seen them that day in the car together,and threatens blackmail.His sarcasm and irony heats up a brew of satire,revenge, paranoia and suspicion.Bardem brings this to a head with a brilliant nightclub flamenco scene with the trio-cutting from face to face as the music drowns out the dialogue-more entangled in the web.Juan is the moral force in the film,with his disturbance at seeing the headline of the cyclist's death,causing him to fail a female student unjustly,leading to student revolts for his resignation.Egoism and the cult of self are attacked,the selfishness of the lovers.Maria fears Rafa knows about the bicycle accident.Juan sees the poverty of the cyclist's environment,pretending to be a reporter.He desires to confess to the police and asks Maria to join him.He is inspired by the `selfless solidarity' of the students to give up his old way of life,his job,Maria,to come clean: Bardem's call to Spain.Maria thinks otherwise, with tragic consequences.
The film is closer to Antonioni's Cronica di un amore,also starring Lucia Bose,as a wealthy lover drawn to the comforts of wealth,but wrenched by her hand in murder.Both directors were forging a new language of cinema with international credentials.Barden aims to "bear testimony to our time",shares with Antonioni dramatic ellipsis,the power of suggestion.However he is forced by the censors to alter the ending,which seems jarring in tone from the rest of the film,but is there to prove a political and moral point about the goodness of the working classes.Is Bardem Marxist warrior or cultural prisoner?I loved especially the contrast between the scenes of wintry Madrid and barren countryside in contrasat to the rich villa interiors.There are good features,Calle Bardem a documentary on the revolutionary director, by fellow writers/directors.There is a booklet with a critical essay by scholar Marsha Kinder and Bardem's call to arms for Spanish cinema.If you like this see Headless Woman too.