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April 1, 2013

Movie Review: Tristana (1970, Blu-ray)

Review by John Beutler

Oh, if I only knew then what I know now... or rather, if I only had a greater appreciation back then. Even at a young and impressionable age, I had heard the title, as well as the reputation & critical accolades of 1970's "Tristana", mentioned and bantered about in wayward newspaper articles and magazines. But being the immature and uninitiated youth that I was... a budding cult genre film lover, even back then... I would tend to turn the page away from this import ( well as other foreign 'arthouse' films, which I have gleefully later discovered), in favor of the whys and wherefores of a future, where apes would eventually rule over men... or the subtle nuances of Gothic vampires, who would hang their 'empty' victims, upside down in bell towers.

Years later, as over time, my taste in cult, as well as foreign films, had become more replant and refined, I became much more savvy to the names and reputed filmographies of Catherine Deneuve, Franco Nero and Fernando Rey... and once again, the 'Tristana' title, made itself known. Which brings things full circle, in my recent and oh-so satisfying introductive viewing of the film. An exquisitely rendered, produced and performed film...a simple but poignant tale of irony and emotional transformation, borne of sadness, despair and imprisonment. Tristina (Deneuve)... innocent and naive... soon after the death of her mother, is taken in by a respected, albeit poor Spanish don (Rey). The don, hiding a growing attraction to Tristana, eventually shows his true colors ( moments, disturbing, in that he takes outright physical advantage of her... hence the 'adapted' PG-13 rating of the film), and his role of 'guardian', makes over into something more like a demanding, albeit unofficial 'father'/'husband'. In the meantime, Tristana's ever-growing passion for freedom, exploration and expression is encouraged, and yet...on progressively restraining insistence by her guardian... is frustratingly not permitted to venture beyond the threshold of her home, without escort.

Her passion for freedom, expression and choice proves most evident, during a couple of her outside excursions... one of which, with the don possessively under arm, where she relishes the subtle differences between building columns...differences which, by most counts, might be taken for granted by everyone else around her. She genuinely begins to despise her 'protector', as she continues to test the waters of her passion for exploration and choice, culminating in a chance meeting with a young painter gentleman (Nero), who becomes instantly smitten with her attractiveness... an encounter, which Tristana amiably, albeit shyly reciprocates...a situation which is, of course, discouraged by the now-jealous don, now wrought in conflict. Eventually, as the story reaches a crescendo, the don resignedly becomes something that Tristana sorely needed, at the beginning of their dysfunctional relationship.

In the end, without giving too much away, innocence is seen to have taken a back seat to ironic bitterness and cynicism, and the old adage proves true, in that, for better or for worse, certain events in one's life, early on, sometimes serve to make the person who and what he/she is, in later years. Filmed in 1970, "Tristana" now makes it's way onto the Blu-Ray format... and the film is all the more exquisite, for the transition. Crisp-looking, yet ragged and worn...almost colorless at times... in doubt the style of director Luis Bunuel (...whose further films, I now eagerly have slated for examination), this classic import was a delight to behold. Definitely worth discovery...or re-discovery.

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