Tristana (Luis Buñuel, 1970). Tristana mostly lacks the surrealistic touches we expect from Buñuel, which makes the film’s critique of Spanish society even more insidious. There are no sheep wandering through the kitchen, no eyeballs are being sliced open. (There is a severed head used to ring a bell, but that’s in a dream.) Tristana seems straightforward, which draws us into its seedy power struggles. Fernando Rey’s Don Lope lives in a world that is crumbling … he believes in the old codes of honor because they have always benefitted people like him, to the point that he thinks the codes are natural. When he takes in Catherine Deneuve’s Tristana, it’s not exactly clear what their familial relationship is, or even if there is one. But when Tristana is orphaned, Don Lope takes her in and treats as his daughter and his wife simultaneously. In both cases, he attempts to exercise control over Tristana’s life. She escapes and falls for an artist played by Franco Nero … some years later, she returns with a tumor on her leg. Don Lope takes her in once again, the leg is amputated, and they get married in the church, so they are not sinners. But the power relationship has changed … Lope is an old man, Tristana has come into her own (she looks more like Catherine Deneuve as the film progresses). A plot summary points out all of the ways Tristana is sacrilegious, and again, the absence for the most part of surrealism makes the sacrilege seem matter of fact. Which somehow makes the film even more blasphemous than the usual from Buñuel. #463 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. The most obvious double-bill companion would be Viridiana.
The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir, 1952). There’s a lot going on here, enough so I’d be wrong to point only to a couple. But the life-is-a-play underpinning is particularly well done, and deserves special mention. And the meeting of the great Renoir and Anna Magnani is wonderful. Magnani, often portrayed as a force of nature, here represents the power of artifice rather than the natural. She makes full use of her ability to project “authentic” emotions, but that style serves a structure wherein she plays an actress who ultimately only comes fully alive on stage. Her vitality makes this seem a half-truth at best, but Renoir, who frames the story as a theater performance and then “forgets” about it, brings that point home at the end when the frame closes and we are reminded that we’ve been watching a performance all along. The combination of Magnani’s seemingly genuine feel for humanity and Renoir’s focus on the role of artifice in life becomes deeply moving. #723 on the TSPDT list. 9/10. Perhaps a good double-bill addition would be Children of Paradise.
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965). 5/10.