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France / Italy / Spain, 1970 (MIFF 1971, Programme 1)

Director: Luis Buñuel

Spain in the I920's - decaying morally and socially. A world filled by norms and relationships that have outlived their time and assumed dangerously reactionary proportions, form the background to the latest film by Luis Bunuel - the first since his return to Spain after long years of exile.

Ostensibly, the film is about a young girl seduced by her guardian. Yet, like so many of the director's themes, Bunuel has managed to weave in meanings that go far beyond the surface structure. Even the title has a dual meaning. "Tristana" echoes sadness, but it is also the name of the film's heroine. The setting is Toledo, long a stronghold of the double standard, guaranteeing the man sexual licence and woman the choice of falling from grace or repressing her sexuality beneath a guise of sanctimonious innocence.

Corrupted by Don Lope, Tristana flees from the house of the ageing guardian she despises and elopes with a handsome young artist who wishes to marry her. But her sexuality has been perverted by her fear of seduction by an older father figure, and she can now only respond to the brutal and the perverse. Two years later, still unmarried and crippled by a mysterious illness, she returns to the house of Don Lope…

Diffuse elements of the psychological effects of social dependence; of youth and age, jealousy and revenge find expression in the characters of Don Lope and Tristana. Like Tristana, Spain itself has been destroyed by a cruel code of honour, defiled and left amputated by hypocrisy. It can summon nothing to replace the old code. The circular structure of the imagery, the rapid repetition of the images of Tristana's life, reflect the hopelessness Bunuel feels towards Spain.

Bunuel's psychology is impeccable...

Bunuel has relentlessly exposed the destruction of an individual by a corrupt moral code which makes no pretence of improving a society in which class animosities are deepening and brutality is growing.

John Mullen, Film Quarterly

The old Avogonese, 70, has reached a ‘modus vivendi” with Franco's Spain and returned to create in Tristana a code of inexhaustible power and sophistication...

Much of Tristana's success lies in the director's scrupulous ambition.

Stefan Kanfer

As Don Lope, Fernando Rey is supurb. He seems completely at ease in the part. Catherine Deneuve, though she brings considerable acting talent to the title role, cannot hide the fact that she is a foreigner... The rest of the cast is flawless.

Besan in Variety

See also...


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Viridiana, a young nun full of charity, kindness and idealistic illusions about humanity, visits her rich uncle on the eve of her ordination. She stays and tries to help some local peasants and ... More »


In the best surrealist tradition, the opening credit of The Exterminating Angel warns that "from the standpoint of pure reason there is no explanation" for Buñuel's brilliant, disconcertingly ... More »


Los Olvidados (meaning the forgotten ones) was made in Mexico City slums with mostly non¬professional young actors whose talents lie in their simplicity, their obedience to brilliant direction ... More »


Luis Bunuel's film is a kind of summary of his style and his ideas. It is a truly great film. John Huston called it a masterpiece on the level of Bicycle Thieves, Bardem declares that its final scene ... More »

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