Wednesday, February 1, 2012

#595: The Moment of Truth

(Francesco Rosi, 1965)

Stripped of its bullfighting scenes, Rosi's The Moment of Truth is a fatally conventional story. At the time, his post neo-realist visual style was modern and fresh, but here the cinematography has lost its uniqueness thanks to the decade and a half that followed it. Rosi and his Italian brethren influenced New Hollywood maybe more than anyone else, so the full impact of the film's scope and technique has been seriously blunted. The plot itself is at once predictable and so steeped in love for the working man's lot in life that it veers toward cliché, saved only by the skill with which it is relayed.

But, oh, those bullfighting scenes. It helps that Rosi cast a real bullfighter in the lead role, so the only awkward cuts are when he gets seriously hurt. The rest of the time, the camera simply observes - in the way only truly gifted filmmakers seem able to do - a visceral, cruel, ceremonial, uniquely human performance. There are few things which are truly and unavoidably barbaric left in our accepted civilized Western society, but bullfighting - in which a bull is violently tortured, bled out, and finally dragged lifelessly through an arena as audiences cheer on the man who drove the final blade through its spine - is perhaps the most obvious. (Certainly there are crueler things done to animals throughout Europe and America, but only behind closed doors - which tames the barbarism, if not the amorality.) So watching the fights is simultaneously terrifying and horrifying. You don't want the men to get hurt; you know the bull must die, slowly and painfully. People will cheer regardless.

But the pure sadism of the sport makes watching a man sacrifice his safety and potentially his life for a paycheck less moving than it might be, since at least he has some semblance of a choice in the matter. In an era when football has become a serious question mark in terms of head injuries and long term damage to its players - threatening to lead it down the path boxing has taken to irrelevance - it would be much more interesting, if less cinematic, to see this story told about a man who chooses to play football. Perhaps this is me looking in on a sport that is not of my culture. Yes, we kill many cows in this country on our quest toward paving the world with McDonald's. Rosi's real intent with the film (other than to make a hit after a string of artistically successful/commercially disappointing pictures) was to shine a light on the exploitation of the common man. The metaphor, I suppose, is ironic oneness with the bull. It's not an easy sell.

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