Few filmmakers have been so widely respected and discussed as Luis Buñuel, but then again few filmmakers have spanned such a course in cinematic history. From his early beginnings in the silent surrealist movement of the twenties in Paris with Salvador Dali to his late French absurdist satires in the late seventies, the breadth of his era is almost as significant as the biting strength of his imagery and messages.
Tristana heralds his return to Spain from his long, self-imposed exile following the Spanish Civil War in the USA and Mexico. Working tenuously with the Franco government which he previously actively opposed, as well as with Italian and French participation, he finally got the script approved for shooting.
Notable for Catherine Deneuve‘s dynamic role as Tristana, the film is something of a dark chronology of a woman’s descent from innocence to morbid cynicism. When we are introduced to her, she is a very young woman with the maturity of a young girl, crippled emotionally by the death of her mother. She is taken in by Don Lope, played by Buñuel favorite Fernando Rey, whose relationship evolves steadily from benevolent father-figure to authoritarian and domineering illegitimate husband. In the process, she begins fantasizing about his death, and eventually attempts to escape with an artist, but like is so common in these cases decides to return to the chains she knew so well, despite continuing to despise them.
In Buñuel’s repertoire, this film is significant thematically. The main characters are something of petite-bourgeoisie, but there is a sympathetic and human side to them amidst the darkness which is uncommon in his often archetypical or absurdist films criticizing them. It is similarly almost devoid of political discourse – with only moments of police brutality, or discussions of politics which more vividly paint the personalities of the characters. This is the key point – the film is much more character driven, and is more of a psychological portrait than a satirical tract.
The film is shot in beautiful technicolor, with many great scenes of the claustrophobic Spanish cityscapes. It’d be a shame not to catch it while it is here.
Showings begin at Landmark Theatres on Friday, January 4, 2013