Luis Bunuel films make you look at everything else released nowadays and think, "where the hell did we go wrong?!" "Tristana" is no exception. Watching him deconstruct hypocritical sexual mores, power dynamics, and pretty much all of ’petit bourgeois’ society with the glee and exuberance of a genre filmmaker? It’s a reminder that cinema can be more than art, more than entertainment, more than revelatory; it can be all three and then some.
Catherine Denevue stars as the titular lass; boarded up in the home of the paternal, predatory Don Lope (Fernando Ray,) who considers himself both her husband and her father. She’s torn between him and the sensitive artist she so dreamily stumbles upon (played by the original "Django" himself, Franco Nero;) and what seems to be a standard triangle begins to heat up.
But "standard" is not a word in the Bunuel vocabulary. Tristana slowly shifts from prey to predator. She plays the men like fools - though, seemingly, without motive - involving them in an increasingly dangerous melodrama; demolishing their emotions at the whim of her own empty desires. She strikes up a "flirtation" with the young handyman on the local estate; toying with him much in the way Lope deconstructed her. Her violent hallucinations begin to shake the framework of reality itself. By film’s finale, her sanity is in question, but her dominance has been asserted.
The Cohen Media Collection has offered up some illuminating extras on the disc; notably including a 30-minute interview with Bunuel scholar Peter William Evans (who touches on the film’s Freudian interplay, Bunuel’s thematic interests, its historical significance/background, and much more) and a slightly re-edited alternate ending (it’s a furiously cut montage, and this version inserts different photographs) found on certain prints. But the real gem is a commentary with legendary star Catherine Denevue, which touches on both the experience of making this film and of making the seminal "Belle du Jour."
She didn’t have the greatest time on Bunuel’s sets, for obvious reasons; but she recognizes in their films some of her greatest work. It’s a telling assessment: in Luis’ world, there is no beauty except that which is preceded by - and accompanied by - pain, conflict, and madness.