Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
In thinking about actresses who I would count among my favorite movie stars, probably a host of more obscure actresses come to mind, actresses whose work I think has been overshadowed by more prominent players. I've always been a fan of Ann-Margret, particularly due to her willingness to play in mainstream blockbusters as well as the occasional cult type movie (for example, the enjoyable 1964 romp Kitten With a Whip). Catherine Deneuve falls into a somewhat similar category: a world-renowned beauty and actress who has become synonymous with glamorous roles, yet has always had a willingness to take on more adventurous ones (crazying-out in 1965's Repulsion, lezzin' it up in 1983's The Hunger or even singing alongside Bjork in 2000's mesmerizing Dancer in the Dark). Deneuve found her early career overshadowed by her good looks, but after appearing in the 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, her regard as an actress grew, perhaps culminating at the time in Luis Bunuel's 1967 Belle du Jour.
Bunuel's 1970 film Tristana again finds Deneuve (in the title role) at her best, here playing an innocent young woman who's taken advantage of by her much older caretaker. After her mother's death, young Tristana is taken in by a stuck-up nobleman whose socialist ideas have more or less led him into a pseudo-impoverished life. The one thing that seems to bring Tristana's caretaker, Don Lope, enjoyment is the pursuit of women, a past time that more and more seems to be passing him by as he grows into, as he refers to himself, an "old dog." Deneuve becomes his new object of interest, her naivety seeming to draw out the dirty old man in the noble, and the two are soon having a semi-incestuous relationship, since Tristana views Don Lope as a father/guardian figure. All the while, Don Lope preaches personal freedom above all else, but this idealistic notion comes back to bite him when his young lover pursues other romantic options.
In many ways, director Bunuel's film is among his less-notable works. Noted for the surrealist touches he often incorporated in his films (after all, this was the man who collaborated twice in the cinema with Salvador Dali), Tristana by comparison seems remarkable tame and restrained, with nearly all notions of surrealism and shocking imagery lacking from the film. This, understandably, would likely make this film highly unexciting and even boring for those familiar with Bunuel's more outrageous works; indeed this film seems to be have been made in the midst of Bunuel's transition from movie madman into a cinematic social commentator and satirist.
Considering this, the film contains some interesting elements and is a film of vivid contrasts. Bunuel frequently points out the differences between the upper and middle/lower classes, often through the use of editing that juxtaposes imagery of wealthy patrons of a hot-to-trot cafe and working class people grinding away at their daily routines. Concepts of religion, political association, and physical disability are also hit up in the film, seeming to provide an avenue into Bunuel's personal philosophy. Bunuel's script perhaps most explicitly contrasts youth versus age, as Deneuve's character is put up against her much older guardian/lover. Interestingly, as the film progresses, these two reverse roles, leading to perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film, and the transition in the Deneuve character ultimately makes her performance quite fun to watch.
A Spanish-French-Italian co-production, Tristana features two actors (Deneuve and co-star Franco Nero as a potential love interest) who had to have their lines dubbed into Spanish in the final film. Considering, then, that Deneuve's performance has to be judged solely on her physical acting, it makes the role even more astounding. Deneuve's mannerisms perfectly capture the jubilation of youth early in the film, with a playful eroticism frequently shining through. Once she is exposed to the realm of physical passion, the Tristana character starts to change, becoming more opaque and slinky, a fact which does not bode well with Don Lope's strict perceptions. Deneuve conveys this change quite well, and by the end of the film, her's is an icy character who is supremely sexy, yet manipulative and conniving.
Accompanying Deneuve is a stellar supporting cast, with French Connection star Fernando Rey equaling Deneuve's performance as the opinionated but perverted Don Lope. Rey exudes a stuffy cockiness that dictates almost all of his interactions with those around him, yet by the end of the film, he too has changed to reflect his transitioning viewpoints on the world. Franco Nero's smaller part is played adequately, and seems to match the playfulness of the young Tristana character quite well. Lola Gaus shines is a pivotal role as Don Lope's personal servant, who serves as a kind of voice of reason for young Tristana, and also is the counterpoint to the upper-class arrogance of Rey's character. All in all, the cast does a fine job with the material in a film which encompasses the course of several years in the lives of its characters.
The main star here, though, is Bunuel's commentaries on a variety of issues through his script (based on a novel by Benito Perez Galdos). Really, not much is spelled out in the film, and most of the time, the filmmaking is straight-forward and matter-of-fact capturing the drab life that existed in 1920's Spain. This ultimately leaves it up to the viewer to interpret the film largely on a personal level. This fact would, as mentioned, make Tristana largely a love-it-or-hate-it, affair. For the viewer looking for a wild and wooly Bunuel outing, this would probably be highly disappointing, but for the viewer looking for a more thoughtful, darkly comic melodrama, Tristana would have plenty to offer. At the very least, it offers a quite captivating performance by the always eye-catching Deneuve and some juicy philosophical tidbits for the attentive viewer.
Blood & Gore = A rabid dog gets put down (off-camera)
Profanity = Strong Philosophical/Political Language
Fap Factor = Deneuve is stunning as always, but there's nill in the way of nudie time
*** This review is an entry in swooshfan2's 2012 Favorite Movie Stars Write-off, and I extend a thank you to him for hosting. Please visit one of the above links for details, and to check out the other participants. ***
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older