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Tristana (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 21, 2013

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) is the ward of Don Lope (Fernando Rey), an aging aristocrat whose wealth is fading.  They share a home with the servant Saturna (Lola Gaos) and her deaf-mute son Saturno (Jesús Fernández).  Lope is in some ways a conservative stickler for traditions of honor, but also an atheist and known philanderer.  He has a fatherly relationship with the innocent Tristana, but an overprotective and possessive one, keeping her locked up in the house.  Unable to control his passions, he seduces her.  Tristana’s yearning for freedom and choice drives her into the arms of the painter Horacio (Franco Nero)… but she’s not done with Don Lope, and even in physical weakness, the tables of power and control have been turned.

I’d completely forgotten everything about this movie, and my piddling 27-word review of nine years ago was no help in jarring my memory, so I went into this pretty fresh.  In that old review, the only thing I noted was that it was a relatively “normal” film for Buñuel.  Which I guess it is, even considering it has an artificial leg and a dream sequence with Rey’s head as a bell clapper.  Of Buñuel’s lecherous, domineering men, however, Don Lope may be the most complex… even sympathetic.  This is not simply a case of a rotten guy getting what’s coming to him.  Lope does, at times, seem to have Tristana’s best interests in mind.  And yet he cannot contain his libido, or the jealousy and possessiveness that underlie his hollow old-world justifications.  Has he transformed into a more respectful person by the end?

And Tristana is no saint, though her behavior is understandable from a psychological viewpoint.  She’s been corrupted by Lope’s hypocrisy, and her need to be able to choose her own options (whether it’s a pillar, a chickpea, an alleyway or a mate) has been stifled for too long.  She is an off-center version of Eve, the apple offered innocently to Saturno in the beginning becoming a more sinful temptation by the end.  Although Deneuve’s voice is dubbed, her performance conveys many layers and a convincing character development.

It’s a lot more subdued than the usual from Buñuel, you could even call it conventional.  But it is peppered with religious, Freudian, social and political commentary.  I think some of this went under my radar — or over my head — and a third viewing is in order.  I’m not as enthralled by this film as many of his other works, but it is a good movie that will probably reveal more to me as time goes by.  I do wish it had a little more zing in it, though.  Rating: Very Good (81)


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