Tristana by Luis Bunuel —Review

#Tristana #Bunuel #Catherine-Deneuve 

There’s nothing quite as exciting for a cinéphile than watching a film of someone who was exiled from his own country. There must be something from his political outlook in it. There must be something that will make you have a mini epiphany. 

Luis Bunuel was exiled for his political beliefs by the Spanish junta. He was someone low-key as a filmmaker. He was even disgusted when his film,  “Tristana”, was up for an Academy Award for best foreign film. He must have been relieved not to have won. Perhaps it didn’t win because the film was too progressive for North American sensors and even audiences. This was 1970 of course. It was the beginning of more freedom of expression and,  believe it or not,  the depiction of women somewhat a bit away from the beaten path. Bunuel,  ever the ‘nationalist patriot’ wanted an all-Spanish cast. He had to acquiesce and, among others, put the sexy and sultry French actress Catherine Deneuve in the starring role. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job playing the title role. 

The film begins slowly and is somewhat wordy, giving me the vibe of a theatre play. The ever-so-innocent Tristana is probably of legal age when her mother dies and leaves her in the care of the perfectly -cast Fernando Rey as Don Lope. Don Lope is a man who loathes work and has survived on what seems to be the backs of others. He is perhaps Bunuel’s image of himself, but of a sort that was stepped on and stepped on others. The man is respectable in public,  but we find out he’s a letch. He wants to,  and becomes, both father and husband to Tristana. The girl doesn’t have much choice. She has nowhere to go. She needs permission to go out. But like almost any girl,  she defies him and finds a boyfriend. Another lover. 

This is the gist of the plot. It’s the character studies that are important here. Don Lope is poor and a miserable person until he inherits the family wealth when his sister dies. He slowly morphs into a caring man, which seems surprising. He has to work his way up to it, but he succeeds where most fail —money makes him a better man. 

When Tristana comes back to town because of cancer, he opens his home to her again and takes her abuse. We seem to feel less sorry for her, as she lets her hate consume her. And it seems like she has a perverted side we need to figure out. 

In the most daring scene of the movie,  Tristana opens her bedroom door and flashes her bare chest at the deaf Saturno, a younger man that she always defended earlier and whom she uses as her wheelchair chauffeur now.  It seems she has sex with him whenever she feels like it. This sets up the last part of the film well because we have seen what happens when you are abused. Or perhaps when you have power that you didn’t have before. 

I’m not sure how well Bunuel was acquainted with James Joyce’s “The Dubliners”, specifically “The Dead” short story. It is snowing out there, and we can feel Don Lope will depart soon. He is moribund, yet happy. Fulfilled. In the end,  Tristana pretends to call the doctor when Don Lope is in extreme pain. Instead, she seems to have let him die. How the innocent have strayed. How the wicked always get their way. 

Tristana is a small masterpiece because it is not shy to reveal the reality of humanity gone astray. And we can see that everything happens for a reason. 

Rating: 8.5/10

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