How lucky are we that in less than two months’ time, 2013 will have heralded the debut of not one, but two films from Spanish master filmmaker, Luis Buñuel, on Blu-ray?! In January, of course, we saw the fantastic release of Buñuel’s final film, 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire, on Blu-ray from the Studiocanal Collection. And on March 12, 2013, Cohen Media Group is blessing us with another of the director’s late-career masterpieces with the Blu-ray debut of his Oscar-nominated, 1970 film, Tristana, starring Catherine Deneuve (who had also starred in Buñuel’s Belle de Jour), Buñuel-regular Fernando Rey, and Django himself, Franco Nero.
The film casts Deneuve as the titular Tristana, a young woman in early-20th century Spain who, after the death of her mother, finds herself living as the ward of aging Don Lope (Rey). Lope, a fanatical adulterer in his youth, quickly abandons one of the few principles he lives by in love (never to sleep with an innocent girl) and takes Tristana as his unofficial wife. Having thus been compromised by her guardian, Tristana opens herself to the advances of others and ultimately offends Lope’s honor when she falls for a visiting painter played by Franco Nero. And I realize even as I write this that, although this accounts for much of the plot in the first half of the film, I’ve told you virtually nothing about even that portion of the picture.
After all, the film is so incredibly nuanced thematically that it seems every word uttered by the characters contributes to our understanding of the myriad thematic statements the film makes throughout, not the least of which criticizes the role prescribed for women in Spain’s patriarchal society. Through Tristana, the then 70-year-old Buñuel provides a provocative and moving commentary about the mistreatment and rampant fetishization of women in Spanish culture, a commentary that, in spite of some notable cultural differences, speaks powerfully to the treatment of women in our modern American culture as well, especially where visual media are concerned. In this, the film powerfully explores the moral degradation of Tristana as she is sexually exploited and objectified by her self-proclaimed father and husband. And this is, one might say, what the film is really about. However, the film also highlights issues related to class distinctions, generation gaps, the struggles of workers exploited by the well-to-do, coping with handicaps, and, surprise of all surprises in a Buñuel film, religion. These themes too are prominent and integral components of Tristana’s narrative, and, to my mind, that speaks volumes about the continuous advances Buñuel made in his craft as he progressed in his career.
In keeping with the trend of Cohen’s releases, the transfer here is spectacular, beautifully capturing the film’s original grain structure and characterized by sharp, vibrant visuals all around. Any flaws in the transfer carried over from the original film elements (debris, damage, etc.) are extremely minor, rare, and, most of all, scarcely noticeable, in part due to the film’s ability to engage us so totally in its action, thereby undermining the ability of such imperfections to distract us. The bonus content on Cohen Media’s Tristana release exceeds that of their recent release of The Thief of Bagdad (1924). The special features include audio commentary with Deneuve and critic Kent Jones, an alternate ending, a half hour lecture of sorts on Tristana as it relates to Buñuel’s oeuvre by author Peter William Evans, and both the original and restoration trailers. The booklet too exceeds expectations, featuring an essay by Cineaste editor Richard Porton, an excerpt from Richard Durgnat’s 1977 book Luis Buñuel, and most fascinatingly, excerpts from the diary kept by Catherine Deneuve during production.