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on February 1, 2004
Without really consciously planning a "Catherine Deneuve Festival," I wound up watching this oft-cited classic in the same week as I viewed 1984's THE HUNGER, which is perhaps as notorious a film, but not generally considered to be in the same league as this 1970 Bunuel masterpiece. Aside from having Deneuve in a lead role, the two films have a few other things in common. Both have an international cast and feature Deneuve performing in a language not her own (the Spanish in TRISTANA being, in keeping with the conventions of European cinema, being obviously dubbed). But in terms of weightiness, they could scarcely be more different.
Tony Scott's THE HUNGER is all style, with the occasional hint of substance thrown in almost as an afterthought. It plays with weighty themes (life and death, the weightiest of 'em all--and sexuality, a close second) but it's really only play. If it makes a statement on any of its themes, it's almost inadvertant. Scott's background as a director of television commercials is readily evident.
Bunuel, who has been described as among the least "visual" of the great directors, is all about making a statement. I wouldn't want to have to resort to my old high school English teachers' ploy of isolating one significant "message" in so rich a work. Bunuel explores his traditional themes of power, class, gender and religion but does not offer easily digestible "messages" on any of these. In the character of Don Lope, he shows how one can have contradictory sentiments on any of these matters. The don is an aristocrat living in genteel poverty. He hates the church, is suspicious of the state and ostensibly sympathizes with the weak and powerless. In the case of his ward, Tristana, however, he is himself controlling and domineering--to the point of abusing her emotionally and sexually.
Tristana does absorb some of the don's lessons. She becomes suspicious of the institution of marriage, for example. She seeks the personal freedom that Don Lope has always maintained was the ideal (at least for himself) and ultimately takes on a lover of her own choice but refuses his offer of marriage. Eventually, when illness forces her to return to the don, she does agree to marry him but--we soon learn--only as a means to turn tables on her aging and increasingly feeble "guardian." In the final scenes, she has completely gained the upper hand over the now frail aristocrat. The innocent of the film's opening scenes has been tranformed into an icy, vengeful harpy by its end.
Don Lope's progressive visions were illusions, if not outright lies. Any attempt to fashion his pupil into something of his own creation goes horribly awry, a turn of events that he should have foreseen had he truly been visionary. In truth, he was a merely a decadent aristocrat with a few idealistic affectations. Tristana's victory is that she sees that and is able to use his weaknesses to her own end. Her loss is that, in order to do so, she has become a monster herself.
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on February 1, 2003
Fernando Rey plays Don Lope, a man whose views are a strange blend of old and new. He professes a disdain for both the church and social conventions like marriage but in other matters he is as old fashioned as they come. The very first shot of the film is Don Lope flirting with a younger woman he passes in the street. When one of his sisters dies he becomes gaurdian of her beautiful teenage daughter Tristana played by Catherine Deneuve. Tristana is an innocent and at first Don Lope treats her like a daughter but one day while strolling he asks her for a kiss, Tristana is helpless to refuse nor can she refuse his further advances. One of the most memorable shots is when Don Lope dismisses the maid for a day then the camera slowly follows him as he moves toward Tristana then the camera slowly moves down the hallway wall stopping outside the bedroom door where we glimpse Tristana undressing before him just before the door closes. The absence of any dialogue is powerful in this slow silent scene. Don Lope often talks of individual freedoms but when it comes to exerting his will there is no questioning who is the master of the house. He is liberal minded enough to see through institutional forms of oppression but when it comes to his own self interests he is a tyrant--Tristana is virtually a prisoner to his whims, in fact she has a recurring dream throughout the movie which tells us how she really feels about her "father". As Tristana grows a little older and bolder she starts venturing out of the house more and more and soon she meets a man her own age who promises to steal her away from her situation. But when Tristana become ill she begs to be returned to Don Lope. At first this is perplexing but soon we realize that she longs for some kind of revenge and revenge she has. Though she has a lover who is devoted to her for Tristana hate proves the more powerful emotion. And as Don Lope becomes a helpless old man she becomes the willful tyrant he once was and her own desires turn toward another innocent. Family abuse proves to be a viscious cycle that does not stop turning.
The church is always a target for ridicule in Bunuel films. In this film the church is simply a powerless institution which cozies up to the rich and is puddy in their hands. The church officials try to talk Tristana into marrying Don Lope for appearance sake but the church never judges Don Lope. One of Bunuels more restrained pictures but also one of his more psychologically astute ones as well.
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on February 15, 2001
Bunuel tackles some of his favorite issues and places major emphasis on his anti-clecical views. A pretty good movie, agnostic and amoral, it has enough redeeming qualites to make for imteresting viewing. The performances by the two main characters are superb. This movie is very much like "Viridiana" but without the cast of oddball characters. Do all old men lust for their daughters or entrusted daughters? Bunuel tackles the incestous relationship theme, again. It even has Fernando Rey, again playing a lecherous, old man, who seduces a woman, young enough to be his great-grand daughter. The story evolves around Don Lope who takes in a beautiful young orphan, Tristana, as played by Catherine Deneuve, and falls for her in an attempt to revitilize his life. She's young , he's real old, I'm beginning to wonder if Bunuel wasn't either wishful thinking or being autobiographical? Anyway, Tristana does little to resist but along the way meets an artist more her age. The character of Tristana is probably most interesting as she is innocent in the beginning and if you can get past the slow parts develops into quite the opposite character. She develops an illness that adds to her icy metamorphisis. There are often periods in the movie with silence, as in the beginning in the orphange, when a game of futbol is being played by deaf mutes. Bunuel's use of silence is effective to draw the viewers attention to the serene beauty of the landscapes of Toledo during the 1920-30's. Shot in color, the scenes are quite beautiful. The inside of the houses are magnificently recreated for authenticity. Since Don Lope is a sort of aristocratic man much of the scenes are in and around his home. The supporting cast is pretty good with an excellent performance by Lola Gaos, who is Saturna, Don Lope's housekeeper and Tristana's confidant.The portrayl of men in this movie is less than flaterring, I guess Bunuel thought all men are pigs. Overall I liked the movie, didn't love it. It drones on and on it places but eventually picks up, problem is by then it is almost over. It was nominated(lost) for an Oscar for best foreign movie in 1971 so who am I to say it was just ok, certainly not Luis Bunuel or the academy. Would I dare to go against them and give it only 3 stars? I should have but didn't.
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on August 1, 2000
Bunuel made this film after "Belle du Jour," using Catherine Deneuve as the heroine for both films. Whereas "Belle du Jour" was a foretaste of the sophisticated, chic French movies he made in the seventies, "Tristana" is in some ways a throwback to the rough, psychologically disturbing Spanish movies he made in the fifties and sixties. Both modes have their advantages, but for depth of feeling and psychological insight his Spanish films are clearly better. (His French films are more subtly satirical and international in scope, but he seems to have put less of his personal obsessions in them than in the films made in his native Spanish idiom. Or, rather, in the French films the obsessions now have the streamlined pedigree endowed upon them by the international film community's recognition of the World's Greatest Spanish Director.) Fernando Rey is the quintessential Spanish gentleman--a little bit of brutishness mixed in with the refinement--but he also gets to suggest emotional depths here (and in "Viridiana") that he did not in his other films with Bunuel where he seemed merely slyly charming and debonair. His desperate passion for Deneuve's Tristana is the emotional center of the film, despite the title's emphasis on the heroine. Deneuve's beauty is, of course, flawless and this suits Tristana's early stages when she's sweet, innocent, naive. But Deneuve's ice princess qualities prevent her from growing into the passion for the young artist (Franco Nero) that signal her growth as a woman. Both Rey and Nero register their emotions in a fierce animal way that is perhaps more purely Spanish (or Italian in Nero's case) than Deneuve's rarefied French blood will allow. She seems too cold and refined for big emotions. She's effective in the latter scenes where the script calls for her to become a coldhearted perverse witch, rudely dismissing a friendly greeting in the park in Toledo or scandalously exposing herself to the deaf mute son of her servant. But we don't see the hatred for Rey eating away at her that would allow her to have her final victory over him. We don't see the rage of this young girl toward the men who have let her down: first Rey for bringing her as a young girl into his household as his mistress, then Nero for allowing her to experience passion but disappointing her by returning her to Rey when she gets ill (she says to Nero, "Lope [Rey] would never have done that"--i.e., he's too proud and by implication more of a man). And then rage at Rey again for being stuck with him as his mistress for the rest of her years. When she condescends to marry Rey for appearances' sake, she cruelly laughs at his expectation that their union will be consummated. She's saying to him, "You silly man. I married you to please a priest and to inherit your wealth; don't delude yourself that I care about you." The dramatic situation is fascinating and it's somewhat frustrating that it's not entirely realized, largely due to Deneuve's limitations as an actress. Still, there have been few directors other than Bunuel who could bring so much to the material without softening it and sentimentalizing it. His style here is the plain, non-fussy technique that made him infamous (allegedly, he was once offered Fellini's cinematographer but turned him down in favor of the pedestrian camera work of a fellow Spaniard). Bunuel's style is an affront on bourgeois expectations of a rich mise-en-scene or a style that calls attention to its own artistic, innovative qualities. It can be slow going and even seem boring in the beginning stages, but in the best of Bunuel--as in "Tristana"--it can reward the patient viewer with psychological revelations of a truth uncommonly encountered on the screen.
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on December 4, 2000
Ingratitud y desamor.
En la España Franquista, donde la represión esta en cada una de las vidas de sus ciudadanos, surge el retrato de Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) una mujer cuya vida recorre entre la iglesia y su casa. Sometida por una familia dominante, que la subordina a un tutor y posterior esposo Don Lope (Fernando Rey). Cuando el joven atrativo (Franco Nero) aparece en su vida, y cree haber solucionado sus aspiraciones, y deseos de amor, es abandonada en medio de su desventura. Tristana es el retrato de una sociedad sometida a sus prejuicios y desventuras, donde sus aspiraciones se ven frustradas, por la ingratitud y el desamor.
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on November 21, 2000
En la España Franquista, donde la represión esta en cada una de las vidas de sus ciudadanos, surge el retrato de Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) una mujer cuya vida recorre entre la iglesia y su casa. Sometida por una familia dominante, que la subordina a un tutor y posterior esposo Don Lope (Fernando Rey). Cuando el joven atrativo (Franco Nero) aparece en su vida, y cree haber solucionado sus aspiraciones, y deseos de amor, es abandonada en medio de su desventura. Tristana es el retrato de una sociedad sometida a sus prejuicios y desventuras, donde sus aspiraciones se ven frustradas, por la ingratitud y el desamor.
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