Director: Luis Buñuel | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey, Franco Nero, Lola Gaos, Antonio Casas, Jesús Fernández, Vicente Soler, José Calvo, Fernando Cebrián, Antonio Ferrandis, José María Caffarel, Cándida Losada, Joaquín Pamplona, Mary Paz Pondal, Juanjo Menéndez, José Blanch, Sergio Mendizábal, Luis Aller, Luis Rico, Saturno Cerra, Jesús Combarro, Leonardo Scavino, Vicente Roca, Ximénez Carillo, Adriano Domínguez, José Riesgo, Rosa Luisa Goróstegui, Antonio Cintado, Pilar Vela, Lorenzo Rodríguez, Alfredo Santacruz, Aldo Santacruz, Aldo
Heiligschenner, disruptor, surrealist provocateur and ruthless satitrician. These are just a few of the many stamps that the anarchist filmmaker Luis Buñuel received in dictator Franco’s Spain. But don’t think he was awake for even a second. For Buñuel they were nicknames that he wore with great pride. Even though he had to ‘flee’ to Mexico, and later France, in order to continue practicing his trade. His film ‘Viridiana’ (1961) unleashed one of the greatest film scandals under the reign of the infamous Franco and was described at the time as pure blasphemy. Buñuel enjoyed it. After all, his mission was to saw the legs of the established order until the heavyweights sitting on that chair (church, state and bourgeoisie) collapsed.
Nine years after ‘Viridiana’ Buñuel came up with a film of a similar nature. Set in 1930s Toledo, ‘Tristana’ (1970) stars Catherine Deneuve, a young woman recently orphaned by her patron, the liberal and erudite but anarchist Don Lope (Fernando Rey). ) is taken into the house. Although old enough to be her grandfather, Don Lope has his eye on Tristana, whom he calls “a flower of pure innocence.” He and only he will be the one to take her innocence away. Tristana, of course very unhappy in this situation, becomes more and more rebellious towards Don Lope and eventually flees into the arms of the handsome young artist Horacio (Franco Nero). But when she falls seriously ill, she is forced to return to Don Lope, because only he has the money and resources to take care of her. It also offers her a great opportunity to get revenge on the man who hurt her so much.
Buñuel based the story of ‘Tristana’ on an obscure novel by one of Spain’s literary greats of the early twentieth century, Benito Perez Galdos. Of course he added a typical Buñuel sauce. The events were moved from the 1920s to the 1930s and the story was immersed in the themes so characteristic of the director. And so in ‘Tristana’ the bourgeoisie and the Catholic Church are also beaten up a lot and obsessive (male) desire plays an important role. In fact, all Buñuel’s films are personal documents and in ‘Tristana’ you also get the idea of being able to take a look at the complex personality of the director himself. His wishes, Desire and ideals are bundled in the character Don Lope (just as Fernando Rey also portrays a figure in ‘Viridiana’ who is an offshoot of Buñuel himself). The director demonstrates that he has sufficient self-reflective capacity to condemn his own ideas in a sense with this film. Buñuel also made it even more personal by incorporating images from his own nightmares (the severed head that dangles like a clapper in a church bell) in the film.
Because the viewer should be distracted as little as possible from what ‘Tristana’ is actually about, the film is set up soberly. That means that you will find many shades of gray and brown in this color film. The acting is of an excellent level, with Fernando Rey as the most important asset. Despite his bad side, you can’t hate Don Lope. He is a sad figure who, in fact, mainly arouses a feeling of pity. The same ambiguity can be found in Tristana, beautifully portrayed by Catherine Deneuve. In the beginning she is the naive object of desire for Don Lope. However, she slowly loses her innocence and goes her own way, to the point where she tears herself away from him. But does she also use that newly acquired position correctly? Isn’t she just playing the same game with the maid’s deaf-and-dumb son that Don Lope did with her? Ultimately, only Horacio seems to be who he is to the outside world.
In Spain, ‘Tristana’ was voted the seventh best Spanish film of the twentieth century by film critics and professionals in 1996. Whether the film deserves that rating is a question that everyone must answer for themselves. In any case, it is not Buñuel’s best film. Although well worked out, the story drags on too slowly, especially in the middle part of the film. The excellent acting and the double dimension due to the personal character of this print do not detract from this. But a ‘mediocre’ Buñuel – does that actually exist? – is still extremely rewarding for fans of the classical psychological drama.