Il momento della verita

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The Moment of Truth (1965)

The title sounds better in Italian than English, but the missing language here is Spanish. This classic foreign film from the 1960s takes place in Barcelona and Madrid and concerns bull-fighting. It begins with processions, costumes, singing, incense, candles, chants, running from and dodging bulls on the loose, and all the trappings of hybrid religiosity gone wild. Miguel returns home after the bizarre ceremony unable to follow his father's lead -- work the field and savor earned food and wine within one's own abode. Miguel leaves home and begins a new life in a crowded city. It is not long before he advances from unskilled labor to the rarefied life of a toreador. That he might be on the wrong track emerges from the drunken dialogue within a tavern. All things, it seems, including love, are measured in pesetas.

At first, Miguel's skills are restricted. He fights only novilladas. In the ring, he makes use of a bright red muleta to distract enraged bulls. He is learning the ropes. He is in the process of acquiring the kind of showmanship that will please multitudes and earn their respect and admiration. Later, he will be seen in all sorts of dazzling postures going one on one against many capable bulls. Miguel, off-screen, also named Miguel, was an actual bullfighter. It shows. Viewers might well wonder if bullfighting has any sporting value whatsoever. The bloodletting is constant. Horses are upended. Occasionally, bulls drag their human tormentors to the earth. But this is not a sport in the truest sense. It is Spanish death culture. It is the profane and the sacred intermingled. It is also a contest derived from ancient times, as evidenced by Minoan art. It is unapologetically pagan, too. The fact that fans taunt and watch bulls die does not discredit, if only in a literary sense, the idea that bulls are also worshipped.

The moment of truth has to do with the final stage of the bullfight during which a sword, an estoca, is thrust into the area between the bull's shoulder blades. No animal advocates are going to give their blessings to this outrage. The plunge of steel into the bull will commemorate the end of his life. It has to be done right or the toreador will painfully redress his error amid loud clamoring and insults. It seems inevitable in retrospect that in the movie the torero will instead of completing his coup de grace wind up impaled on the horns of his adversary. Naturally, this is where it is all leading, as sure and as predictable as any familiar mechanical event. Should Miguel have taken his father more seriously back on the farm?

Hard to say. According to Miguel's agent, it was supposed to have been ninety corridas a year plus a few publicity stunts. Pesetas beyond belief. Once again, there are processions, burnt offerings, and saintly altars, almost exactly as before, except that this is the funeral of a matador, not a collection of doomed bulls headed to the arena. The Moment of Truth is as artful a film as any without entering into the cloudier territories of the avant grade. Its trajectory is easy to follow and, as mentioned above, the element of fatalism is thick. The matador's death is amply foreshadowed with every blow given to the bulls that precedes the one in reverse that momentarily stands the natural order of the animal kingdom on its head. All in all, Rosi's film is a great example of Italian neorealism, a heightened form of cinema that, crude as it is, is nonetheless difficult to surpass.


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