Last night I saw again Luis Buñuel’s brilliant film Tristana (1970), starring (above, from left to right) Fernando Rey and Catherine Deneuve. Shot in Toledo, Spain, the film is one of Buñuel’s most elegiac and cheerfully absurdist films, with his signature meditative camerawork, a quirky scenario based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós, and impeccable performances by the entire cast.
All his life, Buñuel’s main intention was to shock and scandalize the public, and this film is no exception; Tristana (Deneuve) is an innocent 18 year old girl, when the death of her mother and father leaves her in the hands of the lecherous and hypocritical Don Lope (Rey), who instead of protecting her, takes Tristana as his lover.
As the film unfolds, Tristana becomes less and less dependent on Don Lope, and breaks away for an affair with the painter Horacio (Franco Nero), which comes to an end when a mysterious illness forces the amputation of one of Tristana’s legs. Confined once again to Don Lope’s house, Tristana exacts her revenge upon the increasingly feeble older man through a series of ritualistic humiliations, and by the film’s end, the entire power structure within the household has been neatly inverted, culminating in a surprise montage at the end of the film, which alters time and space itself, calling everything that has come before in the film into question.
It’s always refreshing to see an artist at work; Tristana is a masterpiece, with not one frame out of place. Fernando Rey, who remains most famous for his work as “Frog Number One” in William Friedkin’s The French Connection, is the perfect personification of Buñuel himself on film, something the director recognized and acknowledged — they worked many times together, always with great success — and the film is a reminder that even with the smallest of budgets, all one really needs is genius to make a compelling, and lasting film, something we would do well to remember today.