The Dead Don't Dream: Tristana (1970)

As it stands, Luis Buñuel is now my favorite director, not to be confused with my favorite film, which will likely always be Do The Right Thing, however, unlike Lee, I find myself entirely engaged with every work offered by the late Spanish filmmaker, even if in some instances it is in a frustrating and problematic manner.  Buñuel, one of the premier figures in the surrealist movement, went on to make a ton of movies during his controversial career, being forced to move between countries to avoid arrest, death and what proved to be an inevitable excommunication from the Catholic Church, which after a quick internet search proves to be a rather difficult task to assure.  Buñuel for all his problematic images of fetishization and sexuality as it relates to authoritative, particularly religious, oppression, has emerged to exist on the same level of controversy with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and the late Pier Paulo Passolini, yet where the former went entirely political, while the latter went absolutely shock value, Buñuel exists in a perfect and beautiful medium between both, a focal point which afforded him the ability to be both scathingly critical of his countries fascist ties, while also playfully considering the ways in which his film's characters undermined or rejected such authoritative figureheads.  Of course, I could go on for days praising Buñuel for his entrenchment within the surrealist notion of constant revolution, however, his inclusion in the last days of my month of women in film blog posts is not for his concern with authority as it relates to politics or religious oppression, but for his unusual and often negative consideration of women within his films.  I do not mean this to entirely dismiss Buñuel as a director, because I am rather aware of the ways in which he uses the feminine and fetishizing of the female body as a point of reference, with which to further study displacement of failure and frustration, yet he does exploit the women in his films, all be it, playfully and ironically, nonetheless, it is to be noted and critiqued, and Tristana is certainly a magnificent point of reference for such discussions.

Tristana, as the film suggests, follows the title character of Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) an orphan whose recent loss of her husband has placed her into a state of constant mourning, much to the concern and curiosity of her adoptive father Don Lope (Fernando Rey) who sees the young Tristana not only has his very real daughter, but, simultaneously, as a burgeoning sexual figure with whom he can place his own desires and hopes for sexual gratification.  Confused, and, frankly, a bit disgusted by Don Lope's advances, Tristana affirms her own desires to be an independent woman and attempts to seek a self and identity outside of Don Lope's gaze, something that initially leads to her meeting with a young, charming painter named Horacio (Franco Nero) who takes an instant liking to the ethereal Tristana and eventually proposes marriage to her, to which Tristana clearly wishes to say yes.  Unfortunately, the presence of Don Lope is impossible to ignore and eventually agrees to mary Don Lope, ostensibly becoming his adoptive daughter and legal wife.  Along the way Tristana falls ill with a disease the results in the loss of her leg, much to the delight of Don Lope who seems to find her handicap bizarrely arousing, and despite her continued attempts to remind Don Lope that she would rather be with some one else, Horacio, in particular, although at one point in the narrative it is clear she will branch out with others if it means avoiding Don Lope.  However, the power and authority of Don Lope proves to grand to conquer and Tristana submits to his elderly authority, however, when he falls ill and is bed-ridden Tristan quickly seizes the opportunity to open windows in the house, thus allowing for cold air to take over the space, only heightening Don Lope's sickness which assumedly leads to his death.  In no moment of lost irony, the dream heavy film closes with a montage of memories, considering and undermining the entire filmic narrative and its assumed reality.

I mention Buñuel is an interesting director to consider when one discussed women in film, particularly since they seem to always possess a problematic role within his works, whether it be their treacherous and influential sexuality in his early surrealist works, or their religious purity as a point of intense desire, as occurs minimally in something like Diary of a Chambermaid, but blows to incomprehensible means in Viridiana.  Even in his other work starring Deneueve, Belle de Jour from a few years earlier, it appears as though he is not quite willing to give a female a space of absolute control or rejection of the patriarchy, although the very means with which the brothel operates and allows its women to navigate spaces, undoubtedly undermines this notion.  Tristana is not completely void of gendered criticism, the most blatant being Tristana's seeming objectification on the part of Horacio and Don Lupe who seem to use her as an object in their own game of strategy to outwit one another, Horacio using his youthful vigor to his advantage, while Don Lupe clearly relies on years of experience and its mental advantages. Tristana simply seems to set aside contently and await for a victor to emerge.  Furthermore, when Tristan becomes an amputee it certainly seems to suggest a degree of fetishization in her otherness, although another reading could see it as a brilliant visual metaphor for the fear of castration or the female lack, as both relate to psychoanalytic theory, particularly in the context of film.  However, these problems seem particularly irrelevant when I reflect on this killing of the patriarchy within the context of the film, Tristana actively makes a choice to destroy her oppressor, even if it is through a slow disease based methodology, culturally speaking, the traditional means of murder for women, often emerging in the form of poison.  While Tristana has its problems, it is certainly the only film in Buñuel's oeuvre, for which I can recall, that does not end in the destruction of a female, but, instead; the complete opposite occurs.

Key Scene:  The bell ringing nightmare is surrealist intensity at is most realized and is perhaps the obvious Buñuelian moment in the film

A new film distributor known as Cohen Films has come to my attention for this bluray, and while their clear stealing of an image and style from Criterion is a bit bothersome, this Tristana transfer is fantastic and certainly worth owning.

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