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.

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