Relationships and the struggle for power within their framework is a consistent theme throughout Luis Buñuel’s films. A rather sadomasochistic director, Tristana, released in 1970, is Buñuel’s most explicit study of the subject. Made in the later stages of the director’s career, he tackles the issue of an older man obsessed with a young girl.

Set in 1930’s Toledo, Spain, the death of Tristana’s (Catherine Deneuve) beloved mother leaves the young woman in the care of Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a wealthy, duplicitous aristocrat who views Tristana as a daughter he must guide to womanhood. Taking on Tristana as his ward, what starts out as innocent, quickly leads to physical desire when Don Lope catches a glimpse of the young woman’s breasts while helping soothe her after a bad dream.

TristanaWhile appearing politically liberal on the surface, Don Lope is both a political hypocrite and blatantly sexist in his personal life. For instance, he claims to support Marxism and the rise of the working class, but will do anything to avoid working himself, believing it’s beneath him to do so. An aging lecher, he openly attempts to seduce young women and encourages Tristana to develop a sense of freedom—meaning the freedom to be his lover. He discourages her from going out alone, telling friends, “If you want an honest woman, break her leg and keep her home.” To Tristana, his feeling of dominance in the relationship is made all too clear: ““I’m your father and your husband—I can be one or the other as and when it suits me.”

Though she accepts them, Tristana is repelled by the old man’s sexual advances. That repulsion is the motivating force behind her actions in the rest of the film. She falls in love with Horacio (Franco Nero), a handsome young artist and the two go away together. Two years later, Tristana develops a tumor and her leg must be amputated. After asking Horacio to leave, she decides to rejoin Don Lope’s household.

Tristana is set on getting revenge on the man who took her virginity years earlier. Older now, Don Lope is reduced to playing cards with priests. He isn’t a reformed atheist by any means, but he craves the company. The priests are willing to humor him, because they are eying a big inheritance for the church. Given Don Lope’s weakened state, Tristana has become the dominant personality in the house.

Both leads give strong performances, and even though neither of them necessarily gain an emotional response from viewers their characters are heartfelt creations. Fernando Rey’s Don Lope starts out as a purely lecherous figure, but manages to find his empathetic side near the end. The always gorgeous Catherine Deneuve is particularly good here, playing a wide eyed young woman at the start, whose spirit is extinguished as life beats her down.

Presented in 1.60:1, Cohen Media’s 1080p transfer is a solid one. Released in 1970, age has certain not been kind to this film, as there are specks, grime and dirt evident on numerous occasions. Even so, detail is quality is pretty strong and color accuracy seems good. All things considered, Buñuel fans should be pleased.

Tristana features lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks in both the original Spanish as well as an English dub. Both Deneuve and Franco Nero were dubbed in the Spanish version, which may be distracting to some viewers. Neither track is particularly immersive, but there are some nice ambient effects presented in the surrounds. Dialogue is set solidly front and center, but fidelity expands rather nicely.

English subtitles are available.

The following special features are available:

  • Tristana’s Sentimental Education: A Conversation Between Catherine Deneuve and Kent Jones, 2012:  In this audio commentary, Deneuve discusses her trepidation about working with Buñuel again after the difficulties of the Belle du Jour production. With Jones providing a bit of direction, the actress provides some interesting information on the shooting process and some backstage anecdotes. Deneuve also briefly mentions other great directors she’s worked with, such as Polanski and Truffaut.
  • Luis Buñuel’s Tristana: Repression and Desire (HD, 32:01) Buñuel scholar Peter William Evans offers informative insight into the film’s background and analyzing its themes.
  • Alternate Ending (HD, 1:06) The changes here are very slight, but it’s still interesting to see.
  • Original French Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3:04)
  • Linear Notes: 20- page booklet featuring Catherine Deneuve’s diary entries written during production, a new essay by Cineaste editor Richard Porton and a chapter excerpt from scholar Raymond Durgnat from his now out of print book on Buñuel.