His movie Death of a Cyclist attracted some attention in the mid-1950s; its melodramatic accomplishment was too readily identified as a new vitality in Spanish cinema. The fact is that Spanish cinema had been no more than an assortment of oddities that had managed to slip past the Spanish authorities. Buñuel’s absence hung over Spain: Las Huirles, Viridiana. and Tristona make a trio of night raids on sleeping territory. Bardem worked by daylight and seems callow in comparison.
He was an actor, drawn into filmmaking through his contact with Berlanga. Death of a Cyclist was fatalistic, socially observant, and as terse as Lucia Bose’s central performance. But Spain cries out for insane images: peasants eating poison; the depraved last supper; the sensuality of Tristanas artificial limb. It is a European country on the edge of the Third World—like Ireland—and the contrast is surreal. Bardem, at best, was a realist, helplessly copying American shock cuts. The distance that a pedestrian may lag behind is shown by the fact that Calle Mayor—made in 1956—was aversion of the stolid naturalism of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street.