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The Moment of Truth
(Il momento della verità)
Director: Francesco Rosi
Screenplay: Francesco Rosi with Pedro Portabella, Ricardo Muñoz Suay, and Pedro Beltrán (story by Francesco Rosi)
Stars: Miguel Mateo (Miguel Romero), José Gomez Sevillano (Don José), Don Ernesto (Himself), Pedro Basauri (Pedrucho), Linda Christian (Linda, the American lady), Luque Gago (Torero), Salvador Mateo (Torero), Manuel Ruiz Serrana (Torero), Francisco Caño (Torero), José Rodriguez Matia (Torero), Manolo Perez Moratilla (Torero), José Vizcaino (Torero)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1965
Country: Italy / Spain
The Moment of Truth Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
The Moment of Truth Part rise-and-fall melodrama and part documentary about the culture of bullfighting, The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità) was Italian director Francesco Rosi’s first film made outside his native Italy although it bears his neorealist political and aesthetic leanings, as well as his fascination with the political over the human. His previous two films, Salvatore Giuliano (1962) and Hands Over the City (1964), were focused primarily on the various power collusions of the Italian government, military, organized crime, and business, and as such worked on a macro level, with the characters functioning less as people than as cogs in the corrupt machine. In The Moment of Truth, which has been nearly forgotten since its initial release, Rosi attempts to make something of a character piece, but the film ends up feeling distracted, constantly torn away from developing an interesting protagonist in favor of lingering on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the business of bullfighting and bullfighting itself, which captivates Rosi’s camera as both a gruesome spectacle and a metaphor for the way in which those in power use up and dispose of others.

The protagonist is Miguel Romero, a young provincial man played by real-life 26-year-old torero Miguel Mateo, known affectionately to his fans as “Miguelín.” Seeking to escape the drudgeries of poor rural life (symbolized by a shot of his father making endless loops in a horse-drawn tiller), he takes up an interest in bullfighting, eventually catching the attention of Don José (José Gomez Sevillano), an agent who helps shape him into a rising star (with plenty coming off the top for him). Miguel is handsome, athletic, and graceful in the arena, and soon he is a hot commodity, fighting all over Spain and drawing crowds that cheer for his unique style that blends classical bullfighting techniques with a modern spin. Miguel is fearless in the arena (his first big break comes when he steps in for a more favored torero who chickens out at the last minute), but he is also steadfast in his purpose, which is not to be a celebrity, but rather to make enough money that he can retire young. He is surrounded by temptation, particularly women who want to consume him, much like the audiences that pack into the arenas to watch him on display.

The rise-and-fall arc of Miguel’s tragedy is familiar, although Rosi gives it a new dimension via his neorealist approach that mixes the fictional story with enough real-life footage to give The Moment of Truth a constant documentary vibe. The film opens with nearly 10 minutes of footage depicting the annual running of the bulls in a small Italian village following an ornate religious parade that embodies all that was odious about the Catholic Church’s collusion with General Franco during the dictator’s reign. That is the extent of the film’s involvement with larger political concerns, though, as Rosi focuses his attention on the world of bullfighting.

Characterized as an art by its admirers and a brutal bloodsport by its detractors, bullfighting is the film’s true subject, and if Miguel holds any interest it is only as one particularly shining element of an elaborate business enterprise that makes money by feeding the spectators’ bloodlust in the name of cultural heritage. Having personally attended a bullfight in Guadalajara, Mexico, some years ago, I can attest to its brutality and the power with which Rosi captures its horrific energy on film. Because the film is only partially interested in Miguel’s story, Rosi can dedicate significant chunks of screen time to a documentary-like portrayal of how bullfights unfold. With the ’Scope aspect ratio taking in the enormity of the arena and the crowds and the Technicolor ensuring the vividness of the copious amounts of spilt blood, the film catalogs with unblinking precision the rigid performance of bullfighting, from the first emergence of the bull into the area, to its weakening by being constantly stabbed between the shoulder blades by a horse-mounted matador with a lance, to the ritualistic spearing of the bull by the brightly dressed torero with hooked barbs that leads to the more familiar red muleta and the animal’s eventual demise via a sword in the base of its skull.

While there is undeniable artistry in the torero’s dance-like movements (which Rosi often captures in close-up using zoom lenses that put us right in the action), it is hard to escape the feeling that bullfighting is little more than a particularly cruel means of demonstrating that intellectual and moral superiority do not necessarily go hand in hand. The mixture of lavish display and wanton cruelty is almost absurd, which plays into Rosi’s overarching view of the nature of power and the manner in which it draws everyone and everything into its manipulative vacuum. While commendable on a political level, the film as a whole never quite works simply because it feels so divided. Its documentary footage is so gruesomely absorbing that we lose track of Miguel, and when the camera finds him again, we are reminded that he is essentially a nonentity defined only by the generalities of his peasant background and his economic aspirations. Thus, we feel very little when he returns to his village as a superstar or when he is seduced by an American socialite (Linda Christian, essentially playing herself). Outside the arena the film has an emotional numbness, so that by the time Rosi draws the story its tragic conclusion, it feels more clichéd than devastating—the obvious and only way the story could end.

The Moment of Truth Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
The Moment of Truth is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.
Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio Italian PCM 1.0 monaural
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements
  • 2004 video interview with director Francesco Rosi
  • Essay by critic Peter Matthews
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$29.95
    Release DateJanuary 24, 2012

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Since the film been largely forgotten since its initial release 47 years ago, the release of The Moment of Truth on home video is something of an event, especially for fans of Rosi’s unique brand of political cinema. Criterion’s digitally restored, high-definition 1080p transfer from a 35mm interpositive looks good, although viewers should not expect a clean, sharply delineated image. Criterion’s transfer ably maintains the film’s rough celluloid texture, which boasts a heavy, heavy presence of grain that underscores the film’s documentary nature. Colors looks clean and natural; the bright, gaudy colors of the toreros’ elaborate costumes are set off beautifully against the large expanses of earthen browns that dominate the bullfighting sequences. The original monaural soundtrack, which was transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack negative and digitally restored, sounds generally good, although there was some notably persistent ambient hiss throughout. Given the lengths to which Criterion goes to restore their films, I can only imagine that this noise was impossible to remove without compromising the overall integrity of the soundtrack.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    It seems that The Moment of Truth has been in Criterion’s hopper for some time since the only supplement on the disc, an exclusive video interview with director Francesco Rosi, was recorded back in 2004 (around the same time as Criterion’s DVD release of Salvatore Guiliano). Running about 14 minutes in length, the interview allows Rosi to reflect on the film and its production (he says he basically filmed without a script, making it up as he went along), as well as bullfighting, which I was surprised to find him defending quite a bit.

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection


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