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After the death of her mother, beautiful young Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) goes to live with Don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey), her new guardian. Don Lope is an impoverished, freethinking nobleman who may have also been an old flame of Tristana's mother, but whatever paternal feelings he may have for the poor girl are no match for his lust for her. He quickly makes her his lover, but as she grows older, Tristana starts finding her own voice and demands to study music, art and other subjects with which she wishes to become independent. She falls in love with a young artist, Horacio (Franco Nero), and leaves Don Lope to live with him. But Tristana falls seriously ill and returns to Don Lope, who is now rich from an inheritance. Their strange relationship now takes a drastic turn as the bitter Tristana begins to take revenge on the aging, weakened man who stole her innocence. (From Cohen Film Collection’s official synopsis)

Tristana
The review gods clearly want me to become better versed in the cinema of Luis Buñuel. First I was sent That Obscure Object of Desire, which led me to also watch The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in preparation. After writing that review, I revisited Belle de Jour (thanks Hulu Plus and Criterion!) and, as it turned out, I remembered almost nothing about. Now, a new DVD/Blu-ray company called the Cohen Media Group has sent me Tristana, a French/Spanish co-production Buñuel made between Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Like those films (and Diary of a Chambermaid and The Phantom of Liberty), Tristana was co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière ( The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and produced towards the end of Buñuel’s very long career. Tristana is not among the director’s most famous films, but was also made during the celebrated twilight period of his career.

Tristana is especially interesting as a piece between Belle de Jour and Discreet Charm, since they are both more strongly surrealist features. Belle de Jour, the story of a bored, S&M-curious, au courant housewife that takes up prostitution, is something of a dark comedy and an anti-romance; Discreet Charm, the story of bored, aristocratic couples desperately trying to get together for an expensive meal, is a dry, class-based satire. Tristana is a relatively straight-forward melodrama flavoured with the usual social ideology. One might accuse the story – which skips along surprisingly large expanses of time without warning -– of mimicking Nabokov’s Lolita, but as it turns out, the book it is based on was actually written by Benito Pérez Galdós more than half a decade before Nabokov’s book became a phenomenon. Buñuel’s surrealist roots once again appear in the form of dream sequences, though without the comedic slant of Discreet Charm’s ‘nesting doll’ dreams-within-dreams or the nonchalant perversion of Belle de Jour’s fantasy sequences. Tristana’s dreams are more in line with something Mario Bava would dream up. The overall stylistic approach to filming remains relatively stoic in comparison to what many European filmmakers were doing in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, but Tristana features a lot more camera movement than I’ve seen in Buñuel’s other era releases. More often than not, the movement is devoted to keeping moving characters in frame, but there are some surprisingly lively pans and dollies peppered throughout, making for a definitely more handsome, filmic experience.

Tristana
Tristana was Buñuel’s second pairing with actress Catherine Deneuve, after Belle de Jour, a film that required the same brand of ice queen she’d made famous in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Tristana begins the film as a generally warmer character than I’m used to from Deneuve at this early point in her career, but otherwise follows the lines of fragility of her Repulsion performance. However, Tristana has quite an arc, giving Deneuve a proper chance to cover a wider range of character (the film follows her throughout a difficult existence that covers several years). By the end of the film, she’s become the villain. Tristana marked Buñuel’s first time working with Spanish actor Fernando Rey, who he’d work with again for both Discreet Charm and That Obscure Object of Desire. Here, he is cast in the role of an older man that attempts to seduce a younger woman from a place of power – a role he’d more or less reprise in That Obscure Object of Desire. This performance is less pathetic and more subtly sinister. The character’s dark side is well-hidden behind the guise of upper-class ‘wisdom’ and he is revealed to be an absolute hypocrite by the end of the film. Of course, me being me, I was most interested in the novelty of seeing the original Django, Franco Nero, working in a straight arthouse-type capacity. During his success as a spaghetti western icon Nero appeared in a mainstream musical, Camelot, along with some war films and cop flicks, but his only particularly ‘artsy’ film during this period was Elio Petri super-weird, abstract thriller A Quiet Place in the Country (aka: Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna[/I], 1969) – a film so far outside the mainstream that it almost doesn’t qualify in this context. Nero’s place here is mostly to be handsome and to react to the plot as dictated by the title character. It’s a modest task that he makes good use of.

Video


This review marks my first experience with a Cohen Media Group Blu-ray. Cohen, who is the latest challenger to Criterion’s throne (following Lionsgate’s not exactly prolific StudioCanal collection) has a massive catalogue in the works, including classics from the silent era and European arthouse favourites. According to this release’s literature, Tristana has been restored and re-mastered in 2K for the sake of both 35mm showings and digital home video viewing. This 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer is, for the most part, spectacular. The image is clean without sacrificing texture or grain (any DNR is applied with a soft touch) and features tighter details than most of the StudioCanal collection releases. The finest detail qualities are found in the more brightly-lit outdoor sequences and other scenes shot on location. The fine textures of marble and granite structures and the complex patterns of water-stained wallpaper really set the transfer apart. The overall frame is perhaps a little dark, but, having learned a bit about Buñuel’s use of natural and minimal lighting, I assume that dark is the default style for the film. The darkness rarely envelops important details or highlights either and only minor, entirely expected haloes dance over the darkest edges. The colour palette is limited and modest, consisting of a lot of brown and yellow. Deep blues make several appearances in terms of wardrobe, while lush green backdrops liven some sequences and poppy reds contrast the general darkness. The problem here is consistency. The baseline detail and clarity is impressive, but things do occasionally turn fuzzy from shot to shot. At worst, the grain increases exponentially and blotchy grey print damage fills in the lighter elements. This occurs very suddenly and clears up just as quickly, so I suspect these scenes were edited out of some releases, either for pacing (in American markets) or for censorship (in the Spanish market). The most obviously damaged section of film occurs between the 7:13 and 7:52 mark.

Tristana

Audio


Cohen Media Group has remixed both the original mono Spanish and English dubs into 5.1 and both are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Now, I’m not sure if Buñuel shot with sound (it was very common for Spanish and Italian movies to be shot without sound at the time), but it doesn’t really matter, since, no matter how you slice it, everyone is dubbed in some form or another on both tracks – Nero and Deneuve weren’t very strong Spanish speakers (and appear to be speaking in their native Italian and French, respectively) and Rey seems to be dubbing himself. So this is one of those matters of taste. Spanish is probably the ideal choice, but English won’t ruin the experience (the English track’s dialogue is actually warmer and rounder, overall). The original French dub would’ve also been a nice addition, but alas. In the end, I chose the Spanish track, which definitely shows telltale signs of post-production dubbing, including off-sync lips and voices not matching performances. The only real ‘problem,’ assuming we take the basics of dubbing in stride, is the occasional inconsistent sound quality of the voices (at one point on the Spanish track, Nero isn’t dubbed at all for a sentence or two). The issue I take with this release is that both tracks are only available in remixed 5.1, not the originally intended mono. It’s all well and good to put the effort into a remix for modern audiences, but a company concerned with restoration, like Criterion and Blue Underground, usually include original audio tracks whenever possible. The good news is that the 5.1 remix mostly sounds like a mono track, anyway. At best, it centers the dialogue better than a two channel mono track would and separates out some of the film’s musical bits (ringing church bells, children singing, Tristana playing a piano, et cetera – there’s not much in the way of score). If there were directional elements added, I didn’t notice them.

Extras


The extras start with a commentary track featuring Deneuve and moderator Kent Jones, recorded in 2012, and entitled Tristana’s Sentimental Education. Jones is well-prepped with a series of interview questions and Deneuve is brimming with answers. Some of her answers are a bit short, but most of them are full-bodied and even cover information beyond the scope of the question without losing too much of the discussion’s momentum. It’s nice to hear about Buñuel from someone that actually worked with him, rather than someone who studies and adores him for a change. Unfortunately, the track loses steam pretty quickly, leading to longer and longer bouts of silence. Up next is Luis Buñuel’s Tristana: Repression and Desire (32:00, HD), featuring critic/professor/historian Peter William Evans discussing the film. Evans covers the film’s long history and dissects the content, including the production’s troubles in Spain to casting, other films Buñuel made based on Galdós novels, changes from the novel to the movie, political subtext, dream sequences, comparisons to other Buñuel movies, and comparisons to Freudian texts. The disc also features an alternate ending (1:10, HD), two trailers, and trailers for other Cohen releases.

Tristana

Overall


Assuming this Blu-ray release is an indication of the quality we can expect from Cohen Media Group and the Cohen Film Collection, good things must be on the horizon. The image quality is very strong overall with no major signs of digital tampering, the DTS-HD MA audio, though unnecessarily remixed into 5.1, sounds natural and clear, and the extras, though relatively brief, are very informative. While struggling to find intelligent things to say about this particular Buñuel classic, I stumbled upon a charming bit of trivia pertinent to my interests: in 1970, Fernando Rey and Franco Nero starred alongside each other in both Tristana and Sergio Corbucci’s Compañeros (my personal favourite of the director’s collection of genre-defining spaghetti westerns). That’s a political subtext-filled minefield of a double feature.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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