Death of a Cyclist

A part of this viewing listCriterion Collection Spine #427: Juan Antonio Bardem’s Death of a Cyclist.

I can’t recall the last time I saw a film where the scene transitions were handled so masterfully. One character blows cigarette smoke to end a scene, a cut, and in a different time and place another character gets smoke blown into hers. Fire flickers on María’s face when she’s with her husband, a cut, and in a different time and place, fire flickers on her face while she’s with her lover.

The care with which those shots were planned carries throughout this film; frequent cuts, a preponderance of close quarter intimate conversations, and strong sight lines do an excellent job of tuning the tension, but at times it becomes almost melodramatic, soap operatic. The wealthy mistress and her professor fling run over a cyclist and leave him to die alone. Meanwhile, another fellow is on to their infidelity and tries to blackmail them over it. They’re not initially guilt-ridden over the death, but are intent on hiding it, and they assume that is what the blackmail is about. What follows is quite a bit of excellent innuendo, verbal fencing that never quite strikes a mortal blow.

Things do get tense enough that María runs over her lover, and in an ending that’s just a tad too ironically pat, she runs off the road and dies trying to avoid hitting another cyclist.