Criterion Corner: The Moment of Truth (1965) - Reviewed

After the breakout success of Francesco Rosi’s Italian neorealist gangster epic Salvatore Guiliano and taking home the prestigious Golden Lion for Hands Over the City, the ordinarily politically charged filmmaker set his sights on what would become the closest thing he would make to a documentary film: The Moment of Truth.  The director’s first color film began initially as a documentary chronicling Spanish life before evolving into a quasi-fictional feature which managed to capture on film at the time the crispest, most extraordinarily detailed and unflinchingly brutal images of bullfighting in cinema history! 

Chronicling the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of a farm boy turned torero maestro, the film functions simultaneously as a visually spectacular if not shocking blood-sports docudrama, a critique of how the impoverished region can foster fearlessness of death and finally a loose character study of an ordinary man experiencing existential crisis at the height of his superstardom.  Played by real-life matador Miguel Mateo (Miguelin), The Moment of Truth is that rare near-Mondo film which places you the viewer in the thick of the carnage soaked bullfighting ring surrounded by hundreds of spectators and still manages to make a statement about the co-dependent nature of bullfighting and the surrounding area housing it.

Much like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, the film begins with downtrodden characters on the outskirts of society before transforming into a purely visceral thriller as they step up to the podium to look death in the eye itself.  Though a bit superficial at times with passable but not stellar acting from Miguelin and enough animal cruelty to rustle the jimmies of activists, The Moment of Truth is a heart stopping feat of astonishing physical acting on the part of Miguelin.  Whatever your personal stance on the controversial bloodsport, there’s no denying what Miguelin does on camera here is simply incredible!  The footage captured in the ring as Miguelin gets closer to these wild and angry bulls than most people are comfortable is so electrifying and pure, you can’t take your eyes off it!

Rosi fans tend to consider The Moment of Truth to be one of the auteur’s lesser works when compared to the ones that took home the Golden Lion and soon after the coveted Palme d’Or.  While I can agree there was infinitely more complex dramatic depth to Salvador Guiliano, The Moment of Truth possesses such magnetic and raw visceral power that you’re likely to be stopped dead in your tracks.  It is also, above all things, a testament to man’s ability to push himself to the limits of his existence without fear and the inseparability of beauty and horror in what is still one of the deadliest and most controversial blood sports between human and animal on the face of the Earth.


- Andrew Kotwicki