At the first bullfight I ever went to I expected to be horrified and perhaps sickened by what I had been told would happen to the horse.” That’s the line Ernest Hemingway chose to open his 1930 masterwork, Death in the Afternoon, with, and, in truth, it says it all.
Just as much a dissertation on the craft of writing as it is on the art of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is often called the best book on the sport of bullfighting. It might even be one of the best books on sport. On skill and technique, on grace and courage, on life and death.
Death in the Afternoon is a fascinating read, even if the acts described are far from something you might approve of. Same for Francesco Rosi’s 1965 semi-documentary, The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità).
The title, a line from Hemingway’s book, refers to the moment when the torero plunges the sword between the bull’s shoulders, killing him. There are several moments of truth at the hands of Miguel (Miguel Mateo), the real-life bullfighter who Rosi focused his lens on. Working with cowriters Pedro Portabella, Ricardo Muñoz Suay, and Pedro Beltran — Rosi formed a rags-to-riches story for Miguel, but the draw comes from the fights; which Rosi and his crew captured using long lenses, placing the viewer directly in the ring, mere feet from the action.
The results are violent, graceful, and engrossing. Moment of Truth is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel along with an interview with Rosi.