Tristana’s Return

tristana it small

Missing in action since, if I recall correctly, a Criterion Laserdisc back in the paleolithic era, Luis Bunuel’s 1970 masterpiece “Tristana” has reappeared on Blu-ray, in a solid new transfer from the Cohen Film Collection. Apart from a brief dream sequence, it’s a film devoid of any overtly “surrealist” touches, yet every frame achieves a subtly insinuating strangeness — an almost too-perfect clarity that results from Bunuel’s classically balanced compositions, restrained color palate, and impassively even pacing. It may be my favorite of Bunuel’s films, but why choose when there is so much to admire in his magnificent late period, including his final film, the 1977 “That Obscure Object of Desire,” which has also resurfaced in a new disc from Studio Canal/Lionsgate.

I didn’t have space to get into this question in my New York Times review, but this “Tristana” comes with an ending slightly different from the one I recall — although that ending is included as well, as an extra sourced from what looks like an older video master. The movie still ends with a little flurry of flashbacks recapitulating the story, but instead of continuing all the way back to the first sequence of the film, it now ends with a quick fade out as Don Lope (Fernando Rey) leads his young ward (Catherine Deneuve) to bed for the first time. Is there a Bunuel scholar in the house who can account for this alteration? I think I prefer the more symmetrical ending I remember from the 70s, but I’d be most curious to know the history here.

108 comments to Tristana’s Return

  • “I believe that I have failed retain works that get into Hegelian or post-Hegelian dialectics in more than passing.”

    The wildest dialectical writer is Nagarjuna.

    I get what Junko is saying. The guy who wrote that piece about Lynch is laying out a vulgar Marxist shot with object circumstances determine consciousness. Non-dialectical Marxism is strictly from cough syrup.

  • Peter Henne

    Even granting that “objective conditions… determine consciousness” is a crude and excessive formula, one still has to answer the specific problem the author posed about surrealism’s impossibility to be intuitive and culturally engaged, naïve and cunning at the same time? Any figurative painting, including surrealism, requires forethought and rational planning. I’d say if it’s going to move us, it needs some inspiration as well. Surrealist paintings often contain elaborate figural arrangements and are designed for us to recognize their component familiar objects or how they are metamorphizing. The spacing between objects or their transformations are calibrated so that they can be discerned, emotionally weighed, and meditated upon separately and together. Ernst, Dali and others made decisions to place components here and not a half-inch further over there out of scrupulousness, like any painter does. It would be overly romantic to suggest they did it all on the fly. The technique of oil painting for figures on canvas is laborious, not spontaneous, if you would have them be “sharp, defined” as Junko stipulates. Fragonard is said to have painted some of his eighteenth-century “portraits de fantasies” in an hour, and the brushwork shows through, vivaciously.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Any figurative painting, including surrealism, requires forethought and rational planning.’

    That is true. Revolution also requires forethought and rational planning. Inspiration for painting is spontaneous, and revolution begins spontaneously, but can only succeed with planning and forethought, that is why there is revolutionary gymnastics of surrealism.

    Beginning as personal phenomena with spontaneous dream, dreamer sees image. It is visible only to dreamer so it is personal phenomena. Painting picture of dream vision, then becomes visible to all. This is general phenomena.

    General phenomena is collectively shared, generally visible or objective habits of groups of people or societies. Different expressions of personal phenomena come together to create general phenomena which then leave residue in further personal phenomena. Example: I introduce new fashion from my personal phenomena, then becomes general group phenomena that might inspire another designer who then create a new derivative fashion. This is dialectical procedure. Surrealist art operating this way with revolutionary intention.

    But power of capitalism so strong that it can turn revolutionary art into commodity. That is why surrealism under attack, to take away revolutionary force by making it dead art movement. Objective of surrealism is communism of art, art made by all people who will turn labor into play. Not to replace old art that will still be valued and appreciated.

  • Mark Gross

    “But power of capitalism so strong that it can turn revolutionary art into commodity. That is why surrealism under attack, to take away revolutionary force by making it dead art movement. Objective of surrealism is communism of art, art made by all people who will turn labor into play. Not to replace old art that will still be valued and appreciated.”

    Hello, Junko. I just wanted to thank you for writing that last paragraph. I’ve been following this fascinating thread closely. For me, caught up in watching these classic films at home, which is a kind of commodification, (especially for me, as I’m still recovering from a long illness, like the main character in Poe’s “The man Of The Crowd”)one sometimes forgets about what you describe as “turning labor into play.”. Then again, the reality of these films, which was created through collaboration, transcends their objectification by enveloping us in their sense of being alive and belonging, so that “film history” is suddenly transformed through our watching into the present.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘the reality of these films, which was created through collaboration, transcends their objectification by enveloping us in their sense of being alive and belonging, so that “film history” is suddenly transformed through our watching into the present.’

    Isn’t that the best to to see these movies? Mark, I hope your recovery is speeded by enjoyment of movies.

  • Mark Gross

    Thank you, Junko, for your kind words. And also for your writings on the dialectical nature of surrealism, in particular the idea of a joyful community and communal play, which I find inspiring.

  • “…it’s a film devoid of any overtly “surrealist” touches, yet every frame achieves a subtly insinuating strangeness — an almost too-perfect clarity that results from Bunuel’s classically balanced compositions, restrained color palate, and impassively even pacing.” – Dave Kehr

    I think that our host put well the thing that sticks to my mind about TRISTANA seen on tv and on VHS or perhaps beta the last time I saw it. Buñuel’s invisible style and lightness of touch are remarkable features in his films which in their open endedness achieve such completeness as art. TRISTANA is one of his most beautiful ones, so I’m looking forward to the Blu-ray – and also the dvd of the film released next Tuesday in Finland.

    I was struck by the remark that Terrence Malick uses actors as Bresson uses his models. But using big stars like Sean Penn and Ben Affleck (I have not seen TO THE WONDER) seems “wrong” to me – stars cannot be models in the Bressonian sense. Having seen TREE OF LIFE I can understand Penn’s frustration, he seemed lost in it – and perhaps not in the sense Malick intended.

  • alex

    X359594,

    Not sure quite what I think of DC’s CRASH, but I once was elated catching a very young elephant
    dance on a large ball and balance stuff on the tip of its trunk on TV. I was similarly impresse by the car wash scene in CRASH.

    I do think that DC’s NAKED LUNCH is great moment in AMERICAN surrealism — derivative to be sure, but also a masterpiece of inventive adaptation.

    BTW, Walter Huston tonight on TCM at his greatest in DODSWORTH and — that superb realization of Wilhelm Tavern’s anarcho-sydndacalist genius -SIERRA MADRE. All followed by MARE NOSTRUM, a work of a master of swahbucking, crisp – tableau narration, Rex Ingram.