Luis Buñuel's Tristana at Opera Plaza

By Moira Sullivan

Fernando Rey and Catherine Deneuve in 'Tristana'

Luis Buñuel's Tristana is a classic film made in 1970 that helped make Catherine Deneuve one of the best paid and most mythologized actresses in the world. But for her character she has to endure being molested by her guardian, her mother’s husband, Don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey) who is 25 years older than her. She later becomes his common law wife.

The film is beautifully made with magnificent art direction and a provocative script but it is hard to tune out the message of the film of the sexual bondage of this young woman. This is not the first time Deneuve played sexually twisted characters such as the film that made her famous, also directed by Luis Buñuel, about the daytime prostitute called Belle du Jour in the film by the same name (1967); and a woman who is so disgusted by men that she winds up killing one who has fallen in love with her in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion from 1965.

This theme is not so different in Tristana for at first the young Deneuve is unable to dissuade the attention she receives from her guardian, but fortunately develops a strong will as she later becomes disgusted with him and leaves him for a younger man, the artist Horacio Díaz played by Italian actor Franco Nero. However, there is a price to pay for this, as she later becomes seriously ill and then a cripple.

The deformation of a beautiful woman is equated with the reduction of her guardian into a pathetically hopeless admirer. She also begins a sadistic relationship with a deaf boy. All the while, the townspeople either ridicule Don Lope for his  attachment to the younger Tristana, although they really are against demonstrating attraction of any kind. In one respect, all Tristana can think of doing is watching Don Lope’s head swinging from the bell tower. With as much rage as someone in her position must have after sexual abuse and guilt for breaking the rules of the church, which the priests constantly bring up, it’s little wonder that she wishes Don Lope out of her life for good.

Still Tristana is worth seeing and this complicated and miserly story about twisted love is regarded as a classic and is far from the happy endings of Hollywood as can be. In the 70s European art films were in a competitive positon with American films and this was one of the most controversial, regarded as a masterpiece.

Opening at the Opera Plaza January 4 in San Francisco.

© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 01/02/12
Movie Magazine International