Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Moment of Truth: Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

There are some films that are not only difficult to watch but also difficult to review.  The Moment of Truth is one of those movies for me due to its brutal and absolutely real bullfighting sequences.  This isn’t a film with CGI bulls or staged executions, it’s the real deal.  These bulls are basically tortured and then viciously killed for public entertainment.  I understand that different cultures place different values on animals and their customs can seem strange to others, but after watching this movie, any romantic notion I had about the glory and excitement of bullfighting has been completely scrubbed away by images of seeing bulls bleeding from the collection of swords stabbed into their bodies.   Seeing a gusher of blood explode from a bull’s mouth as it slowly chokes to death on its own blood is a terrible thing to watch.
The Moment of Truth exemplifies the best and worst of reality entertainment.  On the plus side, it exposes viewers to another culture, another place and customs that we may not be familiar with.  The drawback to that exposure is being exposed to ideas, events, or customs that we may not agree with.  This movie balances its real bullfighting sequences with a loose plot that tells the story of a poor young man named Miguel, played by real life bullfighter Miguel Romero who is also known as ‘Miguelín’.  Miguel has left his hometown of Andalucía to seek a better life in Barcelona but he quickly discovers that things are hard there too.  Jobs are so scarce that it boils down to only the people that know someone can get a job.  Eventually Miguel does get a job thanks to a family friend, but it barely pays him anything and the work is very difficult.
For Miguel, who had been convinced that he would be successful and respected, his lowly station in life grates on him and he gets more and more desperate.   While hanging out with other poverty stricken people and prostitutes in a bar, he learns that there is an old man that teaches men how to bullfight in the basement.  The idea that he could become a bullfighter with the opportunity to make some good money is too much for Miguel to resist now that he has a direction.  He quickly joins the school and proves his natural talent as a matador which impresses the teacher enough to agree to set up his first real bullfight in a small village outside of town.  Miguel’s performance there impresses a local manager and they sign a contract after the manager promises to make him a huge star and to take him to the biggest markets available.
All of that comes to pass as Miguel starts to compete in many fights and becomes very popular with the audiences. Miguel is less successful in dealing with reporters and he’s lectured by his manager to be more friendly to the press, but Miguel has too much on his mind to worry about saying the right things to the reporters.  The constant fights and the late night parties have started to affect his clarity and performance in the arenas.  For the first time, Miguel starts to feel fear and the loss of his former belief in his invincibility brings about the possibility of some dire consequences for him unless he conquers those fears or quits bullfighting.
The Moment of Truth is loosely based on a story by Pedro Beltran, but the focus of the film is more on the fight sequences than Miguel’s story.  It’s interesting that this movie is considered one of the finest movies about bullfighting (if not the best), despite the fact that it was directed by an Italian director named Francesco Rosi who had no prior knowledge of the subject matter before making the movie.  The Moment of Truth was shot in Spain with non-professional actors and in real locations which adds a lot of authenticity to the movie.  The film’s main showcase are the bullfighting segments and one breathless sequence showing the men trying to survive the ‘running of the bulls ‘ which looks incredibly dangerous.  In fact, several of the men were obviously hurt as they tried to escape, as the bulls either tossed them or trampled them.  It’s these scenes that give the movie its power since we know that it’s all real.  While we may or may not condone what’s being done to the bulls, there’s no denying the tension of the movie as we wait to see what may happen next.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

As you would expect, this 1080p (2.35:1) transfer varies in quality since so much of it was shot outside in a variety of locations and conditions.  It doesn’t help that the action being filmed is also far away since Rosi and his cinematographers Gianni Di Venanzo and later Pasqualino De Santis wanted to capture the action from the viewpoint of the crowd.  In an interesting departure from previous movies, they used a special wide angle 300mm lens that was normally used to film sporting events to film the bullfights.  Thanks to that lens, they were able to zoom in from long distances as well as maintain excellent depth and clarity.  The film was originally shot by Di Venanzo but he dropped out because of the intense bullfights and De Santis took over.  Colors are generally good but the contrast varies thanks tot the filming conditions.  There’s also a lot of grain present and it’s heavier than I would have expected from a Criterion release but it’s not enough to detract from the experience.  This is still probably the best this movie will ever look because of its age and how it was filmed.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Moment of Truth offers only one audio track for this release – an Italian LPCM 1.0 track.  For non-Italian viewers, Criterion has included English subtitles which appear inside the image frame.  The dialogue is clear and crisp and intelligible even if I can’t understand it.  Don’t expect a sonic powerhouse for this release as it’s basically just the dialogue and some light sound effects.  Other than some minor hiss that pops up every once in awhile, there really aren’t any other defects or other issues with this mix.  A new remastered mix would have been appreciated but this one does the job adequately.

Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 

  • Francesco Rosi – An almost fifteen minute talk with the director of the movie Francesco Rosi who talks about how the movie came about and filming in Spain.  He’s open about the challenges the film faced but also pays tribute to the cast and crew of the movie.  Rosi even touches on the bullfights themselves and the polarized opinions about the fights.  He also points out certain sequences where Romero was in serious danger that they were all unprepared for.  This interview was filmed in Italy in 2004 exclusively for Criterion.
  • Booklet – A booklet that contains an essay by critic Peter Matthews along with some illustrations.

Summary (3 out of 5 stars) 

Personally, watching these bulls get senselessly butchered solely for a crowd’s enjoyment just made me alternatively angry and sick to my stomach.  I’m well aware that many will disagree with me and can find enjoyment watching bullfights.  Many people are against hunting as well, but at least those animals are killed generally quickly unlike these poor bulls who are stabbed time and time again, until they either collapse from blood loss or succumb to their injuries and get killed.  Putting all of that aside however, I can still appreciate the technical skill and personal bravery of both the crew and Miguel Romero who had quite a few close calls in the movie.  This is most likely the best bullfighting movie ever made and hopefully the last one.  The Moment of Truth covers every aspect of bullfighting in all of it’s brutal detail so there really isn’t a need for another one, especially since Criterion has done such a great job in bringing this movie back to the public in the best way possible.
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