I am starting out on the seventies on familiar ground. “Tristana” is a movie by Luis Bunuel, a director who has been a recurrent feature since the early thirties. I have lost count on how many of his movies I have watched by now, but it feels like a lot and my sympathy for them has been… varying. Bunuel for me is best when he becomes surreal and worst when he is grumpy. I would say “Tristana” is on the grumpy end of that scale.
Still, for a movie that does not seem particularly surreal, I find it hard to parse. The plot is fairly straight forward and seems to lack a point. More likely though, I simply have not picked it up.
In Toledo, Spain (a beautiful town I really must visit), Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) lives with an older man, Don Lope (Fernando Rey), her legal guardian. Don Lope is out of a noble family, but his support for the poor and his animosity against actually working means that he has lost almost his entire fortune and is getting by by selling off the family inventory. Don Lope is supposed to be an admirable man except in one respect: Women. Them he considers free game and is certain other me see them the same way. Since Tristana is a young and pretty girl (she is Catherine Deneuve after all) he sinks his fangs into her and make her not only his ward but his lover too. Fiercely jealous he bars her from even leaving the house alone and soon she is royally sick of the old man.
When she finally gets out of the house, she finds a young painter, Horacio (Franco Nero), falls in love and run away with him. Skip a few years and she is coming back to Don Lope’s house. Some illness in her leg makes her think she is about to die and so she wants to do this in his house, against the wish of Horacio. She does not die however, only loose her leg, but now she is a bitter woman and sends away Horacio, marries Don Lope, yet keeps him at an arm’s length, torments him and eventually kills him (or let him die from his illness rather than call the doctor).
So, what was the point of all this? I do not know. I had hoped that the extra material would have enlightened me, but it only went on about how great it is (as usual). Wikipedia is not much help either. My (poor) suggestions would be: 1. Treat your girl nice, she might pay you back big time. 2. Loosing a leg makes a woman bitter. 3. It is hard to get old when you lose everything you have, virility, principles and love.
In any case I am not happy with either of my interpretations and that makes me rather indifferent to this movie.
Technically it is better than most Bunuel movies. Hey, it is in color! Deneuve is as usual a sight for sore eyes and Fernando Rey is as good as ever. Toledo looks very charming (it snows in Toledo?? I had no idea.) and the filming itself is excellent.
There is just that little item about the point of this movie. There are hints that Bunuel compared the characters to himself and his own family and if that means this is sort of his family history, then that is pretty messed up.
Is this a movie to recommend? Well, die-hard Bunuel fans will likely love this movie. Me, not so much.