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Spain 1970
Directed by
Luis Bunuel
99 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Whilst this late Buñuel (he would direct three more films in a career that began with Un Chien Andalou in 1929 manifests the director’s characteristic socio-political and psycho-sexual themes it is the work of a soldier who has served his time in the trenches and who now can take a broader perspective on the human condition,

Adapted by the director and Julio Alejandro from a novel by late nineteenth-century Spanish author Benito Pérez Gald who also provided the source material for Buñuel’s 1959 film Nazarin, the time frame has been moved from 1892 to the early 1920's. Catherine Deneuve who has starred in Buñuel’s 1967 hit film, Belle Du Jour, plays Tristana, a 19 year old orphan who is left under the guardianship of her uncle, Don Lope (Fernando Rey), an impecunious member of Toledo’s high society. Whilst he adheres to the old aristocratic lifestyle he’s also a free-thinker of sorts, rejecting bourgeois conventions and, in his mind at least, seamlessly replacing the old droits de seigneur with a philosophy of unfettered hedonism.  That is, so long as he is the beneficiary of it.  For when Tristana runs off with a handsome young artist (Franco Nero) he is outraged..

This bald summary sounds like Tristana might be either floridly melodramatic and/or tiresomely didactic but Buñuel remains strictly observational, perhaps too much so for anyone looking for a  conventional drama. Tristana’s seduction is achieved elegantly with no more than the closing of a bedroom door and her relationship with Don Lope remains coolly civil throughout. The latter is a hypocrite but more through lack of self-awareness than wickedness and when tragedy befalls Tristana he cares for her with genuine affection, certainly more than her boyfriend who abandons her. The director’s main concern is with Tristana’s transformation into a bitter woman more scarred by Don Lope’s self-serving ill-usage of her than by the tumour than disfigures her.

Deneuve is much better suited to playing the chilly older Tristana (an unspecified number of years elapse though it seems that she might be in her 40s by the film's end) than the teenage girl.  Rey (who played Don Jaime in Buñuel 1961 film Viridiana) on the other hand is perfect as the charming but ultimately pathetic old goat.

Buñuel was a director who masterfully worked and reworked his interests over his long career and if taken in itself, the intellectual detachment of Tristana may underwhelm some audiences, it is a finely crafted addition to his oeuvre.


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