Death of a Cyclist

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Death of a Cyclist (1955) is a powerful film from Spain. I found this via serendipity as the image on the DVD box intrigued me. The Criterion Collection site offers a plot summary I can’t trump, so here that is:

Upper-class geometry professor Juan and his wealthy, married mistress, Maria José, driving back from a late-night rendezvous, accidentally hit a cyclist, and run. The resulting, exquisitely shot tale of guilt, infidelity, and blackmail reveals the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Spain, and surveys the corrupt ethics of a society seduced by decadence. Juan Antonio Bardem’s charged melodrama Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) was a direct attack on 1950s Spanish society under Franco’s rule. Though it was affected by the dictates of censorship, its sting could never be dulled.

Compelling and intense, Lucia Bosé stars as Maria José, the stunning mistress who’s anxious about the black mail and incrimination she faces, while not worrying much about her responsibility for the death of the bicyclist. As the film progresses, the professor faces a career crisis caused by distraction due to his ruminating over the accident. As the university students lay siege to the administration building, the professor gains moral clarity which leads to a most surprising ending.
 

I liked that the story offered unpredictable plot turns. Lucia Bosé’s beauty and style were simple and captivating. The cinematography was bold and showed how black and white films can achieve more stunning results than color more often than not. I do wonder was Spain of the 1950s that immoral? How much of this is exaggeration?

I highly recommend Death of a Cyclist and I’ll look for more films with Bosé and directed by Juan Antonio Bardem.

Sansho the Bailiff

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In exile

Directed by master director, Mizoguchi Kenji, Sansho the Bailiff is based on a Japanese folktale. I wasn’t familiar with the original tale, but got caught up in the film. It’s the story of a family of noble station. The father, who’s an official, gets into trouble for prioritizing the peasants. He’s taken away and his wife and young children, a daughter named Anju and son named Zushio must leave their home and go into exile. En route to their destination, a priestess meets them and tricks them so that the mother is taken to a brother and the children are separated and sold into slavery.

The principled father taught his children to always be merciful to the needy. Yet as he grows, Zushio forgets this lesson and as a slave brands another slave on the forehead to gain favor with the Bailiff. His sister scolds him for this heartless action, which is a catalyst for Zushio’s turn around.

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Mizoguchi

The mother laments the lost of her children and it’s amazing how they find she’s alive and how in the end Zushio finds her and does live by his father’s principles though it costs him dearly.

I didn’t realize that there was slavery in 11th century Japan. I found the film a wonderful history lesson as well as lesson in self-sacrifice. The film’s beautifully constructed and the Criterion Collection DVD comes with an enlightening commentary by an expert in film and Japanese culture. My only unanswered question was what was the role of a bailiff in medieval Japan. He held so much power compared to a bailiff today.

I highly recommend Sansho the Bailiff.

Human Condition

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Human Condition, Part 1 is probably the most movie film I’ve ever seen. Directed by Masaki Koyabashi, Human Condition, Part 1 shows places idealistic hero Kaji-san in a Manchurian mine that’s managed with an iron fist. Young Kaji-san believes if the workers are treated humanly, they’ll produce more. Even if they didn’t, he believes it’s the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t agree?

The answer is plenty of the other managers and administrators. The head honcho will indulge Kaji-san, but only so far. That man’s main preoccupation seems to be living the easy life. Okishima-san is a veteran at the mine, who thinks Kaji-san’s ideas are too humanistic, but he’s open to giving them a try. He’s one of the few friends Kaji has.

Soon the mine is given 600 Chinese war prisoners. At the same time the higher ups have increased the quota by 20%. Kaji-san wants to see them treated well. He’s certainly alone on that.

When the train comes with the Chinese, the workers are emaciated. Fifteen died en route. Kaji-san campaigns for humane treatment for the Chinese. By  giving them more food, by no means a lot, they are able to work. Trouble comes when some of these prisoners start to escape. Kaji-san’s Chinese assistant Chen gets talked into convincing his pal who mans the electricity to shut it off after 1 am. When the third group tries to escape, Kaji-san’s nemesis accuses Kaji-san, who was totally in the dark, of allowing the prisoners to escape.

One of the most amazing things about this film, which is quite an indictment of Japan during the war, is that it got made and released, that the books it was based on were published. The film depicts a corrupt and brutal leadership. Japan heavily censored speech and punished dissenters in WWII. I admire Japan for allowing writers and filmmakers to criticize it’s atrocities in what at The time was it’s recent past. The Chinese characters are depicted fairly. Some are heroic, others rash or venial. I am sure there aren’t any Chinese films that show Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the 100 Flowers campaign, or Tiananmen Square in a similar fashion, which is a shame. It takes a great society to let it’s artists critique its wrongs.

The acting, particularly Nakadai’s, is outstanding. I’ve never been so moved. While the camera is used masterfully, the film manages to blend naturalism and art.

Three and a half hours is a long time for a film, but the time speeds by. That’s quite a feat.