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The Moment of Truth – The Criterion Collection #595 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 11, 2012 by  



“The Moment of Truth” may not be as controversial as Francesco Rosi’s previous or even later films but it does show how far he was able to go when given that creative freedom and in the case of this film, that is to capture every detail of bullfighting.  It’s definitely not a film for those who are compassionate about the treatment of animals or are bothered by violence towards an animal, but for those who look at bullfighting as a cultural tradition and artform and for those who want to watch a film from one of Italy’s legendary postwar neorealist filmmakers – Francesco Rosi, “The Moment of Truth” is worth recommending!

Image courtesy of © 1964 Intramoviews Srl. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Moment of Truth – The Criterion Collection #595 (Il momento della verità)

MOVIE RELEASE: 1965

DURATION: 107 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, Italian with English Subtitles, Monaural, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: January 24, 2012

Directed by Francesco Rosi

Story by Pedro Beltran, Ricardo Munoz Suay, Pere Portabella, Francesco Rosi

Screenplay by Pedro Beltran, Ricardo Munoz Suay, Pere Portabella

Music by Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis, Gianni Di Venanzo, Aiace Parolin

Edited by Mario Serandrei

Starring:

Miguel Mateo “Miguelin” as Miguel Romero “Miguelin”

Jose Gomez Seillano as Don Jose, the Agent

Pedro Basauri “Pedrucho” as Himself, the Maestro

Linda Christian as Linda, American Woman

The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità), from director Francesco Rosi, is a visceral plunge into the life of a famous torero—played by real-life bullfighting legend Miguel Mateo, known as Miguelín. Charting his rise and fall with a single-minded focus on the bloody business at hand, the film is at once gritty and operatic, placing the viewer right in the thick of the ring’s action, as close to death as possible. Like all of the great Italian truth seeker’s films, this is not just an electrifying drama but also a profound and moving inquiry into a violent world—and it’s perhaps the greatest bullfighting movie ever made.

When it comes to daring films, one of the filmmakers to emerge from post-neorealist Italian cinema and literally shake the film industry was Francesco Rosi.

Rosi was known to take on corruption in his films and in 1962, his film “Salvatore Giuliano” would earn him the “Silver Bear for Best Director” at the 12 Berlin International Festival and would continue to pursue controversial topics and subjects throughout his career, including his 1972 film “The Mattei Affair” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

And through his brave and bold filmmaking, in 2008, the Italian filmmaker was honored in 2008 with an Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement.

But while Rosi is known for taking on mafia and government corruption films, in 1965, Rosi wanted to capture something new and different and that was to create a film around bullfighting.  A film known as “Il momento della verità” (The Moment of Truth).

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s book, “Death in the Afternoon”, about the ceremonial and traditions of Spanish bullfighting including the fear and courage of the toreador, Rosi wanted to capture this in film.  So, after receiving the go-ahead, Rosi headed to Spain in which he would meet a young man named Miguel Mateo, who would be the lead actor in the film but also would become a real-life bullfighting legend.

Rosi and two members of his film crew documented actual bullfighting, a tradition in Spain (and other countries) in which a matador/toreador (or torero) use a variety of moves that they learned from training and  is considered an art form as they use a variety of maneuvers around a live bull.  Because the torero is in close range, they can easily be gored or trampled to death.

During the event, the torero would use a morillo to stab the bulls neck and show which side is actually injured, before leading to the final moment with the bull, the torero lunges a sword into the bull (a movement known as “estocada”) and one strike can kill the bull.  Once the bull is down, the crowd runs down to the bull and typically they celebrate the toredor’s win.

The other event shown is when a large crowd gathers inside the arena and a young bull is unleashed at them and many run around trying to avoid being gored (some trying to grab and hold the bulls horns).

The film would be one of the first major films to capture live bullfighting on camera and incorporated to a film.  And while the film was well-received back in the mid ’60s, the film has been out of circulation for a long time, until now.

The Criterion Collection will be releasing the “The Moment of Truth” on Blu-ray and DVD, the third Rosi film to be included in the Criterion Collection after his 1962 film “Salvatore Giuliano” and his 1963 film “Hands over the City”.

“The Moment of Truth” begins with funeral procession and then transitions to a bullfight ceremony and everyone enjoying the festivities.  Among those enjoying the festivities is Miguel Mateo, a young man who is tired of living in the country and tilling the farm area with his father.  He wants to make good money, so he decides to move to the city and see what kind of job he is able to get.

Immediately, Miguel learns that getting a job is not easy and learns from other guys that the best way is to go through middleman.  But working this way, Miguel learns that he is no different in a position when he was living in the country.  All work, no life, nothing to show for all the hard work.

One night, while going out with a few guy friends to a bar, he finds out that a torero is training people on how to become a toreador.  While Miguel doesn’t have much money, he figures that perhaps by training hard, he can become a toreador and make a lot of money.  And sure enough, through hard training, he becomes well recognized.

In fact, he becomes so good that he catches the eye of a professional toreador manager and is signed to a lucrative contract and now, Miguel Maeo “Miguelin” becomes a big attraction to these bullfighting events.  And as he manages to kill bull after bull, he has a long tour in front of him and one day, he is nearly gored and trampled.  But he manages to survive another day.

But the life of being a toreador starts to get the best of him as he becomes exhausted, especially as Miguelin is being wakened by nightmares that if he does not stop what he’s doing, he will someday die.

His manager tries to tell him that it’s a fear that all toreadors face but was that nightmare just a part of fear or was the nightmare a sign that he must stop immediately?

VIDEO:

“The Moment of Truth” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  It’s important to note that the film was shot in a variety of ways.  For one, footage comes from the many live bullfighting events in which Rossi and his cameramen would document these major events, the other is footage from actual parts of the film.  Capturing the countryside, a party that Miguelin attends, etc.

With that being said, picture quality tends to vary as the theatrical portions hold up quite well, while those shot in the bullfighting arena does show its age, shows quite a bit of noise but at times, there is quite a bit of detail, from the blood running through the bull after it is stabbed, to the dripping blood coming out of the bull’s mouth or neck and later when the bull’s neck is slit and blood flows all over the ground.

For the most part, picture quality for this film is good in the fact that this film showed no flickering, no major film damage, discoloration or excessive aging of the film elements.

According to the Criterion Collection, the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Moment of Truth” is presented in Italian monaural. The dialogue is clear through the center channel and you can hear the crowd screaming in support of the toreador.  I didn’t hear any hissing, crackling or any negative issues with the audio soundtrack for this film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm optical soundtrack negative.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Subtitles are presented in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Moment of Truth – The Criterion Collection #595” on Blu-ray comes with the following special feature:

  • Francesco Rosi – (13:52) An exclusive interview with director Francesco Rosi from 2004. Rosi explains of how he was inspired by Hemingway’s book, filming the bullfighting sequences and discovering Miguel Mateo but also how Mateo was actually injured during an actual bullfight scene that is in the film.

EXTRAS:

“The Moment of Truth – The Criterion Collection #595” comes with an 20-page booklet featuring image stills from the film and the essay “The Blood of Beasts” by Peter Matthews.

“The Moment of Truth” is one of those hybrid films that is half documentary and the other half is an actual film.  And while the film about one man’s escape from poverty to take on a cultural tradition that is highly dangerous for the money may contain a similar banality of a innercity youth trying to make a name for himself as a boxer, filmmaker Francesco Rossi does not want to recreate the risk, he and his crew film wanted to capture what takes place at bullfighting down to the most ultimate, including gruesome details as much as possible.

Already known for his post-neorealist work in Italy, Francesco Rosi does continue to capture the neorealism by showcasing a young man wanting to escape poverty by moving to the big city and to learn that things are not as great as he expected it to be.  Until he finds out that toreador’s can make great money and is willing to take on the bull, as long as he gets paid.

But Miguel starts to learn through his training and then his newfound career is that it’s one thing to make a lot of money, but day in and day out, chances of him not surviving a clash with a bull can happen.  And just like a bull, who is cheered and then forgotten, so are the toreadors.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition to see the human and the animal.  Both being caught up in a longstanding cultural tradition to entertain the masses, but in the end…is it all worth it?

And while many in America may not know the full details of what transpires during a bullfight, suffice to say, “The Moment of Truth” is a film that captures the cultural event with enough detail  that even one of Rossi’s main crew members was sickened by it.

I think that Ernest Hemingway best explained bullfighting as “anything capable of arousing passion in its favor will surely raise as much passion against it.”

I was pretty amazed myself of how much detail and footage of the actual bullfight was incorporated in the film.  Every bloody moment of it but I can see how that footage helped enhance the character of Miguel.  The viewer needed to see his progression as a toreador and to make it authentic, it worked well for Rosi to cast a real-life torero.

And Rosi knew the danger that his talent would be in as he would have to feature footage after footage of him taking on a bull and in today’s films, there is no way an actor will be risking their life onscreen.  In the case of “The Moment of Truth”, there is a scene where Miguel Mateo was gored and injured, bloodied in all…suffice to say, this film could have turned out tragic realistically as the main star was injured.

But it’s because we see Miguel Mateo being pitted against the bull, no re-enactment, no special effects, it’s the real deal and Francesco Rossi and his crew of cinematographers were there to capture it all, as it’s not just a film, the actor is also risking his life in this film.

While the film does featuring the rags to riches storyline in the beginning of the film and also Rosi manages to squeeze in some screentime for the first Bond girl, American actress Linda Christian, the scenes that people will remember the most of this film are the actual arena footage.  From Miguel to other toreadors taking on the bulls, or to see a crowd of people running around the arena trying to dodge a bull that runs astray, gorging anything that it comes into contact with and see people injured.

It sure seems barbaric, especially if you are a person that cares about animals, but this is a long-standing cultural event that has continued since the 1700’s and possibly even before that.  Man vs. animal but what was more of sports entertainment, it’s now become tradition in Spain, Portugal, southern France and other countries.

There is no denying that Miguel Mateo and his elegance of swinging the red drape around the bull, close up to the point where he puts his arm to the bulls face with grace and a bull responding by rushing after him.  And to hear the audience react with applause or gasp, for me…I can see how many can be entertained by it.

But because the many scenes of the actual killing of various bulls and watching blood flow through the back, to see them so energetic and suddenly collapse or seeing the bull’s throat slit with blood pouring out of it, once again, this film is not for the squeamish.

As for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “The Moment of Truth”, while I have never watched the film before in any previous format, because of the HD treatment and Criterion Collection’s dedication to quality releases, I have no doubt in my mind that this is probably the best version of this film to be released on video thus far.   It may not contain the plethora of special features that one is accustomed to seeing in a Criterion Collection release but nevertheless, it’s a film that is worth watching.   One can only hope that Francesco Rosi’s other two films in the Criterion Collection (“Salvatore Giulliani” and “Hands Over the City”) will also receive the HD treatment but for the cineaste, “The Moment of Truth” is a film worth watching.

Overall, “The Moment of Truth” may not be as controversial as Francesco Rosi’s previous or even later films but it does show how far he was able to go when given that creative freedom and in the case of this film, that is to capture every detail of bullfighting.  It’s definitely not a film for those who are compassionate about the treatment of animals or are bothered by violence towards an animal, but for those who look at bullfighting as a cultural tradition and artform and for those who want to watch a film from one of Italy’s legendary postwar neorealist filmmakers – Francesco Rosi, “The Moment of Truth” is worth recommending!

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