Monday, February 9, 2015

Tristana (1970)

          An offbeat character study with elements of radical politics and romantic tragedy, the Spanish film Tristana was adapted from a novel by Bentio Péres Galdós’ novel by the acclaimed avant-garde director Luis Buñuel. French actress Catherine Deneuve, whose dialogue was dubbed into Spanish, stars as Tristana, a beautiful young woman with limited life experience who finds herself thrust into a new world after becoming an orphan. Taken in as a ward by much-older aristocrat Don Lope Garrido—who rebels against society by refusing to work, instead living off old money and the sale of heirlooms—Tristana is confused when Don Lope begins expressing romantic interest, but she accepts his advances out of a sense of obligation.
           Don Lope (played by Fernando Rey) does not insist on marriage because of his nonconformist ways, so when Tristana meets handsome artist Horacio (Franco Nero), a bizarre triangle emerges. Despite all his bold talk about personal freedom, Don Lope tries to enforce his economic, psychological, and sociopolitical claims on Tristana, which has the effect of pushing her further away. Then fate intervenes in cruel ways, creating unexpected complications that take the story from the pedestrian realm of domestic melodrama into the rarified terrain of literary irony.
          While Tristana forefronts issues of class, idealism, and political theory just as strongly as Buñuel’s other films, the movie can be consumed either as a sharp parable or as a simple human narrative. For example, Don Lope’s myriad proclamations about the role of the individual in society (e.g., “We’re happy because neither you nor I have lost our sense of freedom”) speak to Buñuel’s pet theme of preserving identity amid totalitarianism. Yet the proclamations also illustrate the self-serving worldview of a cad who wishes to justify his lascivious behavior. As a case in point, consider Don Lope’s perspective on work: “Down with work that you have to do to survive! That work isn’t honorable. All it does is fatten the exploiting swine. However, what you do for pleasure ennobles man. If only we could all work like that.”
          The catch, of course, is that Don Lope embraces his anarchistic principles when they help coax beautiful young Tristana into bed, and then sings a different tune when she meets an age-appropriate suitor. The X factor in the storyline is Tristana herself, whom Buñuel depicts as an innocent turned cynical and opportunistic by extended exposure to the avarice of man. (One can’t blame her for changing after hearing Don Lope spend years saying things like, “I’m your father and your husband—one or the other, as it suits me.”)
          Although Deneuve captivates with her magnetic screen presence and overwhelming beauty, it’s actually frequent Buñuel collaborator Rey who carries Tristana. He portrays Don Lope as a pathetic failure who hides behind a meticulous appearance and thunderous oratory. Once age and loneliness remove Don Lope’s armor, Rey shows the character’s sad vulnerability without mitigating Don Lope’s insidious qualities. (Costar Franco, an Italian whose dialogue was dubbed into Spanish, mostly gets lost in the shuffle.) Tristana moves along briskly and features several compellingly strange motifs, so while it lacks the edgy wit of, say, Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), it’s very much of a piece with the director’s myriad condemnations of the ruling class. Plus, on some levels, the movie is a good old-fashioned yarn about a woman trying to seize limited opportunities during an oppressive time—while appropriate for the feminism era, it’s also the type of story in which someone like Joan Fontaine might have appeared during the ’40s heyday of Hollywood “women’s films.”

Tristana: GROOVY

No comments: