Blu-ray Review: Luis Buñuel’s ‘Tristana’ Gets Exemplary Restoration

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CHICAGO – At the dark heart of Luis Buñuel’s Oscar-nominated 1970 classic, “Tristana,” is a character so spectacularly hypocritical and richly fascinating that he upstages everyone including the titular heroine. As played by the great Fernando Rey, ignoble nobleman Don Lope is a self-professed libertine bound by traditional values. He passionately believes in the virtues of freedom, but only on his terms.

Lope may insist that his beloved Tristana (Catherine Deneuve, never lovelier nor icier) is free to leave his murky mansion whenever she pleases, but she knows all too well that’s not the case. After taking on the role of the parentless 19-year-old’s guardian, Lope quickly falls for the wide-eyed woman, alternately treating her as his daughter and wife. Rey is both comically ludicrous and deeply pitiful as he attempts to claim the heart of a woman who can’t stand the sight of him. Blu-ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

Taken out of its historical context, Buñuel’s adaptation of Benito Pérez Galdós’ novel might seem like a mere sardonic melodrama about a disastrously abusive affair and the toll that it takes on both lovers. Yet by shifting the book’s nineteenth century setting to the pivotal years leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Buñuel transforms Lope into an embodiment of the contradictory Spanish Republic doomed for defeat at the hands of the Nationalists. Lope’s manipulative cruelty ultimately proves to be no match for the budding eroticism of Tristana, whose growing repulsion at being confined in the clutches of her father/lover fuels her desire to romance a young painter, played by Franco Nero (who, oddly enough, grew into a dead ringer for Rey in “Django Unchained”). As in Deneuve’s previous collaboration with Buñuel (1967’s masterful “Belle de Jour”), the female protagonist’s fall from sexual innocence in “Tristana” enables her to exert dominance over her male captors. If this were a standard love triangle, the film would’ve ended here, but the script co-authored by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro grows even more mesmerizing in its third act, as it deviates considerably from Galdós’ book. The cinematography by José F. Aguayo takes full advantage of Toledo’s claustrophobic alleyways, entrapping the characters in shadow-laden streets where the sun is barely able to peer through the towering walls (I was reminded of Michael Winterbottom’s similarly atmospheric depiction of the titular Italian city in his marvelous 2008 effort, “A Summer in Genoa”).

Tristana was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 12th, 2013.
Tristana was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 12th, 2013.
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

Though “Tristana” includes very little of the aging auteur’s signature surrealism, aside from one skillfully jarring nightmare sequence, it still manages to deliver plentiful aesthetic intrigue. When one of the characters is suddenly deformed, the visual illusion is utterly seamless. There are also some deliciously provocative edits, courtesy of Pedro del Rey, particularly when the film cuts from a sexually empowered Tristana to grieving statues of the Virgin Mary. Though it’s a pity the Spanish dubbed track prevents us from hearing Deneuve’s lines as they were originally spoken, that’s a negligible quibble in light of such an exemplary achievement.

Cohen Media Group’s 2K restoration of “Tristana” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio) and includes an audio commentary featuring the infrequent yet invaluable insights of Deneuve herself. Though the actress and her interviewer, critic Kent Jones, remain distressingly silent during many of the film’s best sequences, they do manage to shed some light on Buñuel’s artistry. The alternate ending is identical to the one included in the final cut, with the key exception of its very final shot. By far the best extra is historian Peter William Evans’ 32-minute visual essay on the film, dissecting its Freudian imagery while exploring the director’s utilization of dreams to externalize his characters’ repressed emotions. Film buffs will rejoice at the Criterion-worthy booklet featuring two first-rate analyses, as well as excerpts from Deneuve’s onset diary.

‘Tristana’ is released by Cohen Media Group and stars Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey, Franco Nero, Lola Gaos and Antonio Casas. It was written by Luis Buñuel and Julio Alejandro and directed by Luis Buñuel. It was released on March 12th, 2013. It is rated PG-13. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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