… The Moment Of Truth 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.
Not so much a film about the narrative; director Francesco Rosi plunges us headlong into the ritual of it all. Rosi known for his efforts in telling truthful and occasionally controversial stories in a cinema verite style puts us right down in the pit for all the violence and reverence that the sport of bullfighting entails. There’s no CGI or special effects or even a guy in a bull suit, if some gets trampled, they get trampled and the violence is on display for full effect. By putting the viewer in the thick of it all, we don’t necessarily like what is going on around us, but we do have a better understanding of it and gain a certain respect for it all as we see the respect that the bullfighter receives in that community but the reverence given to the bull itself during the sport. Dialogue in the film is actually kept to a minimum as the gritty surroundings of the arena are dialogue enough as Rosi tells his story much more through the use of visuals rather than through words. With his surroundings telling the story, bullfighting legend in his first screen role Miguel Mateo ‘Miguelin’ wasn’t really required to do much as he was essentially playing himself however it was interesting as we get to see what motivates these men to participate in this brutal yet revered form of entertainment. Creating an effect of pity and terror unique in Francesco Rosi’s cinema, The Moment of Truth ought by rights to be counted among his finest achievements. On its original release in 1965, Pauline Kael acclaimed “the beauty of rage, masterfully rendered in art,” the anonymous reviewer for Time magazine almost identically celebrating a work of “brutal and paralyzing beauty.” But since then, the film has largely fallen off the critical map, now considered at best a minor entry in the Rosi canon, at worst a betrayal of the perfect analytical clarity defining its immediate predecessors, Salvatore Giuliano (1961) and Hands over the City (1963). How might one explain the historical neglect of so transcendently powerful, indeed ruthless, a work?
…Definitely not a film for everyone given the real violence and the cinema verite style which doesn’t quite work for everyone; The Moment Of Truth is still an interesting piece of cinema that will spark some conversation about the topic of bullfighting and it’s level handed view on the sport that neither glorifies it or condemns it.
Excerpts from David Voigt’s review on new Criterion DVD of “Il momento della verità” in Examiner.com
…Throughout The Moment of Truth, there’s an emphasis on methodology and ideology of the bullfighting profession. Here, poetic wisdoms – like “you must think only of the bull” and “the bull is sacred”- are often used to justify the more sinister undercurrents of greed and sacrifice, even when the bullfighting scenes themselves attain a level horrific purity beyond words. Furthering the theme of contradiction to include matters of economy and tradition, Rosi positions these near-metaphysical moments against the corruption and manipulation examined by many sports films, from Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday to John Sayles’s Eight Men Out. Exhaustion seems to be at the center of those movies, and The Moment of Truth is no different. In the end, blood sports of all kinds are unforgiving, even to those seemingly untouchable warriors crowned into sainthood by the mass delusions of their peers.
Excerpts from by Glenn Heath’s review in Slunt Magazine