Combustible Celluloid
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With: Miguel 'Miguelín' Mateo, José Gómez Sevillano, Pedro 'Pedrucho' Basauri, Linda Christian
Written by: Francesco Rosi, Pedro Beltrán, Ricardo Muñoz Suay, Pere Portabella
Directed by: Francesco Rosi
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 107
Date: 03/03/1965

The Moment of Truth (1965)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bull by the Horns

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Born in 1922, Italian director Francesco Rosi was a bit too late for the Neo-Realism movement of the post-war years. But his 1965 movie The Moment of Truth -- arguably the greatest bullfighting movie ever made -- is as realistic as anything.

Real-life torero Miguel Mateo plays a version of himself, starting life as a farm boy, with not much to look forward to but a life of poverty. He moves to the big city in the hopes of striking it rich, but only finds a different kind of struggle. While drinking with his work buddies, he stumbles across a grim sight: an aging torero is giving classes in a dingy basement room.

Miguel laughs with his buddies, but can't stop thinking about it and eventually returns. He learns quickly, and after demonstrating some showy bravado in the ring, he becomes a rising star, known to his fans as "Miguelín."

Rosi shot many real bullfights for the film, using special lenses to zoom in close to the action. Squeamish viewers may not want to watch this: there are no animal disclaimers here.

Some of the non-bullfighting scenes are a bit on the routine side. Miguelín gets a kick out of spending his new income, and begins to complain about some of the drawbacks of fame. When his final moment comes, it's foreshadowed all too plainly.

But Rosi is more of a director of moments, and he cares more about the feel of this world than he does about the plot progression through it. In that, the movie is a rousing success. It not only captures the texture of the moment, but also manages a kind of poetic commentary upon it. Rosi sometimes focuses on the creepy businessmen in charge of bullfighting careers, or upon the congregations of fans that celebrate this brutal sport.

Perhaps the most bizarre sequence occurs when an American actress matter-of-factly seduces Miguelín; the torero almost doesn't know what hit him.

Simply by observing these and other moments, Rosi finds the little ironies that real life always provides.

The Criterion Collection has released this unheralded movie on DVD and Blu-Ray for 2012. The gritty look doesn't necessarily need high-definition, although the Blu-Ray does emphasize the lovely film grain. There's also an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Extras include an interview with director Francesco Rosi from 2004 (in Italian), and a liner notes essay by critic Peter Matthews.

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