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 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.
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!