Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Luis Buñuel's Tristana
In 1970, Luis Buñuel directs a drama entitled Tristana, a movie based on a book by the same name written by Benito Pérez Galdós. It is about a beautiful orphaned girl whose mother’s last wish is to have her placed under the guardianship of Don Lope, a local aristocrat with a noble standing and a weakness for women. The producer for this movie is Robert Dorfmann. The performers include Catherine Deneuve as Tristana, Fernando Rey as Don Lope, Franco Nero as Horacio, Lola Gaos as Saturna, and Jesús Fernández as Saturno. Valoria-Films, Época Films, Talia Films, Selenia Cinématografica, and Les Films Corona cooperate to produce and distribute the film in Europe and North America during the original release. The rights now belong to studiocanal.
The version I have is a DVD that comes from a distributor called Zima Entertainment, a company in Mexico. In their company, they have placed Tristana in a series called Colección Buñuel in honor of the Spanish director. I was a little leery about obtaining a copy because Amazon listed this particular version as NC-17. However, thankfully, this labeling was mistakenly applied. Zima Entertainment has placed on the spine of the packaging a rating of Clasificación “B” (suitable for audiences 12 and older). The film deals with sexual topics, but the actions are only implied in the course of the film.
This DVD does not have very many features; it only carries the Spanish audio dubbing, has no subtitles, and only a few movie stills. I would have liked to have heard the original French version with other accompanying subtitles. On the other hand, the bare bones version is cheap and can easily play in any DVD player in the United States.
I have written a book review on my sister’s book blog about the movie’s published script, which you can read by clicking here. It incorporates notes and scenes that do not appear in the movie itself. Although valuable, the text cannot show the pace that the movie takes to tell the story. The movie has beautiful shots of the town of Toledo, Spain. It displays the customs, the imagery, and the attitudes of Spaniards in an authentic way. There are surrealistic elements in the dream sequences and in some quotidian manners, but Buñuel’s trademark techniques are noticeably subdued compared to his other works. That is not to say that they are not effective. One surrealistic motif that occurs in the movie, and may scare or disturb younger audiences, is Don Lope’s head swaying back and forth as a clapper of a large bell. Mature audiences understand that these images are psychoanalytic manifestations of Tristana’s fear and disdain towards Don Lope and his advances towards her.
Don Lope is a strange character. On one hand, he is a modern man that believes in communist principles like marriage as a bourgeois construct, sympathy for the proletariat, and disdain for religious superstition. On the other hand, he keeps archaic ideas of honor and chauvinism. He believes in a nostalgic time when men were men—not in a modern time when effeminacy is the fashion—who could resolve their offenses and gain satisfaction from duels to the death. Don Lope’s friends see the public side of his persona; Tristana sees another. He tells Tristana that he is making sure to protect her honor, but she fires back that it is he who has taken it from her. He is a true hypocrite and his contradictions make Tristana become a rebellious and bitter daughter and wife.
Tristana does not have a regular soundtrack. I tend to get bored or antsy when there is no score in a film. Unfortunately, Buñuel is not one for incorporating music into his movies. The few places that have music are the beginning with a syncopated ringing of bells, an angelic choir of female voices when Horacio and Tristana neck in an alley, and Tristana’s tense piano playing with only one leg during one of Horacio’s visits. The very end may have music; we hear a cacophony or a reverberation of a bell in reverse along with wind and waves. The last certainly qualifies as a surrealistic device. But the audience is left with long periods of dialogue.
If I wanted to continue investigating this film, I would look for elements that Buñuel has used to get past the censors. There seems to be an awful lot of sequences showing police forces in his films (e.g. Tristana, El ángel exterminador, and Nazarín to mention a few). My hunch is that Spanish censors were okay with images of the police force as long as their circumstances do not degrade them. However, some political insinuations or subtleties that I catch have gone past the censors. I wonder if the censors were just dumb functionaries or if they simply did not care for the political undertones. A research paper answering this question would catch my eye. In all, Tristana is a dark drama about the dangers of an abusive, if not an incestuous, relationship.