Thursday, October 20, 2011

Modern Film Scripts's Tristana: A Film by Luis Buñuel

Simon and Schuster of New York publishes a movie script entitled Tristana: A Film by Luis Buñuel as part of its Modern Film Scripts series, its General Editor being Sandra Wake, in 1971.  Nicholas Fry translates the original French language edition of Tristana, owned by L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma, into English for Lorrimer Publishing Limited.  Along with the script, the book includes an “Introduction by J. Francisco Aranda” and three sections of beautiful black-and-white stills from the movie.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by Benito Pérez Galdós.  Luis Buñuel and Julio Alejandro work together to write the adaptation, which varies substantially from the novel according to Aranda (7-8).  The story is about a teenage orphan named Tristana that is adopted by a guardian who has a patronizing yet lecherous affinity towards her.  Don Lope, the guardian, treats Tristana as a daughter and a wife over time, eventually seducing her into bed.  Time passes and we see the relationship becoming more strained and hostile, especially on the part of Tristana.  She becomes jaded about the relationship and starts a liaison with a handsome artist named Horacio.  She leaves Don Lope to live with Horacio with the idea of never returning to Don Lope ever again.  Years pass until she falls ill and develops a tumor on her right knee.  Horacio, at the behest of Tristana, returns her to Don Lope so she can be treated properly.  Her right leg ends up being amputated.  Horacio visits Tristana at Don Lope’s home for a time, but he eventually returns to his art studio, never to be seen again for the rest of the script.  Tristana and Don Lope suffer through a one-sided relationship until an event occurs that ends the story.

After reading the script, I now look forward to seeing the movie itself.  (I was trying to obtain a copy of a DVD or a videocassette of the movie through an interlibrary loan system, but I was given a book instead.)  Critics call Buñuel a master of surrealist cinematography, having come from a distinguished group of avant-garde artists and authors.  This script follows his pattern of dream-like motifs and imagery.

One of the first surrealist devices comes in the beginning during a soccer game.  We imagine the players of the soccer game are coming from a high school, because the players are wearing uniforms and the referee is a teacher.  However, one thing is odd.  “Camera pans across the players.  There is one curious feature about this scene, which is that not a single voice is to be heard, not a single shout, and indeed the only noise is that of the players’ feet scuffing the ground, or kicking the ball.  The noisy enthusiasm which one would expect to accompany an activity of this kind is totally absent” (15-16).  This surreal experience then explains itself when the script informs the reader that the players are in fact deaf-mutes.

Another element of surrealism appears when Tristana discusses with Horacio about their plans to leave the town for his studio in another city.  “While Tristana has been speaking, Horacio has picked up a large shell as he walks round the room” (83).  This random object that Horacio picks up may mean a number of things, like an indirect pulchritude of Tristana or its allusion to the birth of Venus.  Whatever the case, it reminds me of the random pineapple given to the protagonist’s in Buñuel’s film Nazarín.

Again, a surrealist act come up when Don Lope’s servant, Saturna, does something strange after a special dinner with guests.  Saturna is clearing the table.  She puts the glasses on a tray, empties all the dregs into one glass and then tastes the resulting mixture” (134).  The first thing that comes to my mind is Christ’s figurative bitter cup he bears in the garden before his arrest.  It can also mean Saturna’s curiosity of her master’s bitterness and that of his friends.  It can mean anything as long as it fits within the context of the script.

The most disturbing and impressive mode of surrealism involves the representation of Don Lope in Tristana’s recurring nightmare.  In this nightmare, she is in the belfry of the local cathedral and exploring all the bells and clappers in the place.  Then this happens:

“Medium shot: Tristana looks under the biggest bell.  She tries to push the clapper.  […] Suddenly she freezes and an expression of extreme astonishment comes over her face, followed by one of extreme fear.  Zoom in on her face.
“Reverse shot of what she is looking at: instead of the clapper, she sees Don Lope’s head swinging under the bell.  His eyes are half open.  We hear Tristana cry out” (40).

This image is loaded with meanings and symbols.  If we take the Freudian route of literary interpretation, we see that this image, along with other symbols in the dream and in the film, connote a sexual and ominous foretoken.  The subconscious mind of Tristana indicates that she is surrounded by the hegemonic phallus of Don Lope.  Initially curious because of her ingenuous sexuality, she becomes exposed to a sinister abuse perpetrated by the one who is supposed to care for her.  What is more disturbing is what Don Lope says in order to calm her down after awaking from this nightmare: “Don Lope: Come, now . . . come, now!  Calm down. . . .  It’s all over. . . .  Smiling: You screamed as if you’d seen the devil himself.  Laughing: I remember, when you were little, you used to scream in exactly the same way whenever you saw me. . . .” (41, italics in original).  This is not a good augury at all of Don Lope.

Which brings us to our next discussion: Aside from the elements of surrealism in this film, why is Don Lope such a creepy pervert?  The very fact that he is a leach does not seem to satisfy our reason for disdaining him.  For one thing, he is a chauvinist.  This is what he says about Tristana’s mother soon after she died: “Don Lope: My child, your mother was a good woman.  There was none better—nor was there ever a head with less brains in it than hers” (21, italics in original).  For another thing, he is a proud rebel and a law unto himself, like in the scene at the café:

Don Zenon in shocked tones: What about the Ten Commandments?
Don Lope: I respect them all, except for those concerning the fair sex, because I’m certain that they were added to the real divine commandments by Moses, for political reasons which don’t concern me. . . .” (44, italics in original).

To top it all off, his politics side on those of Marx or extreme left-wing socialism.  Don Lope: The police represent the principle of strength and a man such as I always defends the weaker party, whoever it may be and in whatever situation he may find himself.  Don’t forget that, Tristanita . . . don’t forget it. . . .” (23, italics in original).  (Notice that he doesn’t include the pronoun she in that sentence.)

The last detail that I would like to bring up is the idea of how incestuous this situation comes across.  If I were to write a scholarly article about this movie, I would try to take advantage of the almost ambiguous references revolving around the photographs mentioned by Tristana.  In the first place, Don Lope notices a picture of Tristana’s recently deceased mother and later comments on her and her husband:

“He looks at the empty space where the piano should be and his eye falls on a framed portrait of the dead woman, on which has been placed a small black ribbon.
            “He picks up the framed portrait and looks at it pityingly.
Don Lope: Once your father was both rich and well, but that was too long ago to do you any good.  Even when you were very little, the debts were already beginning to take everything.
“He hands her the portrait, caresses her cheek and goes off.  Camera holds on her for a second” (21, italics in original).

Later, when Tristana has moved into Don Lope’s place, another reference to a picture surfaces.

Saturna is engaged in cleaning the glass front of a large clock.  Beside her is a small bowl, a sponge, and a dishcloth.  Camera pans across to Tristana seated at the big table.  She is polishing some objects, and now applies herself to a silver frame which contains the portrait of a very beautiful woman, dressed in the fashions of thirty years before.  While she polishes the frame, we can read in her eyes the admiration which the portrait inspires in her.
Tristana sighing: Isn’t she beautiful . . . and so elegant!
            Saturna comes up and stands behind Tristana.
Saturna: She was a very grand lady, married to a marquis.  Don Lope got up to his usual tricks and . . . oh, what a to-do!
Tristana surprised: What did he do?
Saturna: Oh dear me! . . .  He challenged the husband to a duel.  There was a terrific scandal, it even got into the papers. . . .  Sighing: There’s not a better man anywhere, but the moment he sees a skirt, out comes the cloven hoof!” (23-24, italics in original).

Of course, these photographs refer to two different people.  However, taking into consideration Tristana’s behavior throughout the course of the film, I would rewrite the script to make the two pictures depict the one and the same person.  It is a bit of a stretch, yes, but the connection would explain Tristana’s father’s untimely death, an ulterior motive for Don Lope to duel with the marquis, Tristana’s childhood fear of Don Lope, and her resentful and bitter anger towards Don Lope’s sexually oppressive, incestuous, and abusive dominance.  I would also formulate, if it were necessary, that the real biological father be Don Lope, thus explaining Tristana’s behavior after the adoption towards him as a manifestation of genetic sexual attraction.  By the time the movie ends, one cannot help but root for Tristana’s actions to get away from her guardian.

The film or script is a well made story, although the topic of the main characters’ relationship disgusts me.  This may be an instance of a movie that I hate to love.  I would strongly caution parents about allowing their teenage children to read this book or watch the movie.  This book deals with sexual themes, though not necessarily with sexual content, presuming the script exactly portrays the scenes that appear in the movie.  Parents may have a better experience if they read or watch this with their teenage children in order to discuss the characteristics of an incestuous relationship.  On the other hand, obtaining a copy of this movie may be difficult, because even I am having trouble obtaining one.  Parents should also note that there are different versions out there ranging from a PG rating up to an NC-17, depending on the source of the distribution.  If the current script is any indication, I would rate this work between a PG-13 and an R.


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