(Luis Buñuel, Spain/Italy/France, 1970)


It is often said that the defining characteristic of classicists from John Ford to Clint Eastwood is the invisibility of their style. But even their films look ostentatious and contrived next to the late work of Luis Buñuel.


What makes Tristana so disquieting is the seeming simplicity of its manner and the sense of it unfolding, with rigorous and brutal logic, an inevitable tragedy.


Buñuel had nursed this adaptation of Benito Pérez Galdós’ classic novel since 1963. It tackles one of his favourite topics: the seduction and corruption of an innocent, Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), by the much older Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a gentleman whose stated political ideals are far more radical than his treatment of women.


Tristana survives this oppression, after the loss of one leg, by doubling its viciousness and spreading its effects – as in the disturbing where she exhibits her body to the young servant, Saturno (Jesús Fernández).


Is it a surrealist film? Not obviously, but profoundly: a subterranean world of unconscious drives, a parallel dimension, seems to lurk just beneath the surface of everything Buñuel presents – peeking out only in the final glimpse of how this sad story that could have headed in another direction altogether.

MORE Buñuel: Un Chien andalou, Belle de jour, The Diary of a Chambermaid, Abismos de pasión

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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