In “The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies,” film critic and historian David Thomson quotes Virginia Woolf’s 1926 essay about how the emerging motion picture art form has altered our relationship to reality:
They have become not more beautiful in the sense in which pictures are beautiful, but shall we call it (our vocabulary is miserably insufficient) more real, or real with a different reality from that which we perceive in daily life? We behold them as they are when we are not there. We see life as it is when we have no part in it. As we gaze we seem to be removed from the pettiness of actual existence.”
To the detriment of American culture, the Hays Code often conflicted with the aims of that realism from the mid-1930s up until the mid-‘60s.
As the Code’s constraints withered away, films like Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” (1967) and “Tristana” (1970), both starring Catherine Deneuve in title roles, likely perplexed and shocked a substantial segment of post-Hays American audiences. Ironically, it was the Franco government and Catholic church of Buñuel’s native Spain – not the U.S. – that was most concerned with censorship.
See "Tristana" trailer HERE.
The film begins with Denueve as Tristana, looking like the beautiful, romantic young girl in “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964). Tristana is adopted by her deceased mother’s friend, Don Lope (Fernando Rey, who would soon appear in “The French Connection” as head Corsican heroin dealer).
A few years later, life experiences transform Tristana into someone very different. It’s a great performance, evolving from innocent to disturbingly cynical, like Pacino’s Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972).
If Deneuve’s Spanish sounds remarkably on pitch for a native French speaker, it’s because her voice was dubbed, as was Franco Nero’s. Nero plays Horatio, an artist Tristana runs away with for a time.
He has starred in over 100 European and American films over the years, including Sergio Corbucci’s influential spaghetti western, the original “Django” (1966), and makes a cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s in “Django Unchained” (2012).
According to the Cohen Media Group, who distributed the film, “…the original production integrity of ‘Tristana’ has been restored by combining the negative with segments from a quality positive in a high-res digital format, with the aid of DeLuxe Laboratories in New York and Filmoteca Española in Madrid.”
“Tristana” may not be first-tier Buñuel, but like Woody Allen’s less stellar efforts, it shines brighter than most of what’s out there.
See playdates and locations for Luis Buñuel’s “Tristana” HERE.