(Death of a Cyclist)
Director: Juan Antonio Bardem
Production: Cesareo Gonzalez (Madrid), Trionfalcine (Rome), and Guion PC (Paris); black and white, 35mm; running time: originally 91 minutes but cut by Spanish censors to 88 minutes. Released 9 September 1955, Madrid. Filmed 29 November 1954–29 March 1955.
Screenplay: Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis F. De Igoa, from the novel by De Igoa; photography: Alfredo Fraile; editor: Margarita Ochoa; sound: Alfonson Carvajal; sound for French version: Jacques Bonpaint; art director: Enrique Alarcon; art director for French version: Jacques Willemetz; music: Isidro B. Maztegui.
Cast: Lucia Bose ( Maria Jose de Castro ); Alberto Closas ( Juan ); Carlos Casaravilla ( Rafael Sandoval, called Rafa ); Otello Toso ( Miguel de Castro ); Bruna Corra ( Matilde ); Alicia Romay ( Cristina ); Julia Delgado Caro ( Dona Maria ); Matilde Muñoz Sampedro ( Neighbor ); Mercedes Albert ( Cristina ); Emilio Alonso ( Jorge ).
Award: Cannes Film Festival, Critics Prize, 1955.
Bardem, Juan Antonio, and Luis F. De. Ioga, Mort d'un cycliste , in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 February 1964.
Oms, Marcel, J. A. Bardem , Lyons, n.d.
Gomez, Angel A. Perez, and Jose L. Martinez Montalban, Cine espanol 1951–1978: Diccionario de directors , Bilbao, 1978.
Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, editors, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey Two , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1979.
Egido, Luciano G., J.A. Bardem , Huelva, 1983(?).
Schwartz, Ronald, Spanish Film Directors (1950–1985): 21 Profiles , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1986.
Abajos de Pablos, Juan Eugenio Julio de, Mis charlas con Juan Antonio Bardem , Valladolid, 1996.
"New Names: Spain," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.
Bardem, Juan, "Spanish Highway," in Films and Filming (London), June 1957.
Aranda, J. F., "Bardem: Une Methode de travail," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 33, 1959.
Durand, Philippe, "Juan Antonio Bardem, homme d'Espagne," in Image et Son (Paris), October 1959.
Sadoul, Georges, "Un Evénement important," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 February 1964.
* * *
At a meeting in Salamanca in 1955 Spain's young filmmakers declared: "We want to struggle for a national cinema. Through our cinema we want to enter into contact with the people and the regions of Spain, with the people and the regions of the entire world." The spirit of Salamanca was manifested in a film released that same year, Muerte de un ciclista . Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, Muerte de un ciclista won the critics grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It established contact not only with the people of Spain but also with international audiences and marked the rebirth of Spain cinema in the post-Civil War period.
The style of Muerte de un ciclista attests to the influence of a number of diverse filmmakers. In its dramatic use of cross-cutting it follows Eisenstein's principle of montage by collision; in its themes and subject matter it resembles such Italian neorealist works as Antonioni's Cronaca di un amore (1950). Indeed, some critics have criticized Bardem's style for being too eclectic and derivative. Nevertheless, Muerte de un ciclista is of exceptional interest as a document of the early 1950s in Spain. It reveals how privileged members of the Franco regime lived and provides a critical view of those who profited socially and financially from the dictatorship. It also offers brief glimpses of Madrid's lower classes and of university students impatient for change. Both of these groups would reject the assertion made by one of the upper class characters that they are living in a "golden age."
Muerte de un ciclista begins as a domestic drama. A car speeding down a windswept, deserted highway hits a man on a bicycle. After stopping and confirming that the victim is still alive, the couple in the car speed away, leaving the stricken man on the road. We subsequently learn that Juan, the man in the car, is a university professor; the woman who was driving is the wife of a wealthy businessman.
Juan is both an individual and a representative of a social class and a particular generation. He stands in sharp contrast to the university students whom he teaches. These students, like the real students in Madrid in the 1950s, hold demonstrations and denounce what they perceive to be injustices in the system. By alternating scenes between the university students and the upper class world of the lovers, Bardem expands the focus of his story and explores the social and political dimensions of the protagonists" actions.
Although the ending of the film remains ambiguous (because of conditions imposed by the censor, some would argue), Bardem's point of view is clear. Muerte de un ciclista is a parable on the selfishness of the ruling classes, a meditation on the impact of Spain's past upon the present, and an expression of Bardem's fervent hope that the future will be different.
—Katherine Singer Kovács