Directed by: LUIS BUNUEL
1970, TSPDT Rank #489
This strange Bunuel film was originally meant to be a return to his native Spain, but ended up being another international co-production intended to follow the enormous success of Belle De Jour with another pairing of Bunuel and Catherine Deneuve. But Bunuel, ever the contrarian, was not out to make another erotic sensation with Tristana. Sex is at the forefront again in this film, but is used primarily to allegorize power dynamics, by telling the story of an innocent young girl who is "adopted" by an aging Spanish aristocrat and subsequently becomes corrupted by his sexual conquest of her. Over the course of the film, we see Viridiana transform from a vibrant youth into a bitter, twisted older woman as she struggles with her relationship with the man who became both her father and her husband. As in Belle De Jour, Bunuel keeps the viewer at a distance from the characters, but in this case, the material is not erotically charged or sensationalized in any way. In many respects, it's actually one of Bunuel's most subdued films, dealing primarily with the fallout of events which occur almost entirely off-screen. So while the viewer does not get any voyeuristic satisfaction from the relationship between the two main characters, Bunuel still treats them objectively, never allowing Tristana to fully gain the viewer's sympathy. Instead, we see the power dynamics between Tristana and the old man slowly shift, so that by the end of the film, Tristana's abuser seems almost as sympathetic as she was at the beginning of the film. This approach makes the experience of watching this film somewhat confusing and uncomfortable, which, knowing Bunuel, may well have been his foremost aspiration in making this film. However, as is also the case with the provocations in Bunuel's films, there's also much more to read into them than merely attempts at shocking or disquieting the audience - although exactly what Bunuel had in mind with Tristana could be argued many different ways. In any case, while probably not one of Bunuel's greatest films, Tristana is still well worth seeing and shouldn't slip through the cracks. It appears that it has finally been released on DVD now, after many years of unavailability, so hopefully that will give more people the chance to see it.