What films do we usually remember when talk about "the best Bunuel movie"? There are several standard contenders: highly praised by critics "Viridiana", extremely popular among wide audience "Discreet Charme of the Bourgeoisie", classical genre-defining "Un Chien Andalou" and "L'Age d'or", his best anti-religious "Nazarin" and "Simeon of the Desert". But I'm going to make a strange announcement now: his best films are "Belle de jour" and "Tristana" with great Catherine Deneuve.
I've recently watched his retrospective and have now a very distinct opinion about his stuff. Nobody can deny his great influence on world cinema (one of the greatest among european directors), but I think the quality of his creativity itself is slightly overrated. He's too categorical and severe in his movies. Besides, he's a self-repertory director: if you watch all his movies in the row you'll see how obvious is that fact. BUT! Two movies that I've mentioned above are unexplicably magnificient. It's Catherine Deneuve whose talent and subtle power of performance fill his movies with mysterious charme and cheerful lightness.
Now let's talk about "Tristana" itself. It tells about the young chaste girl (Catherine Deneuve) who moved to the old philanderer (Fernando Ray) after her mother's death. No wonder, she's becoming his lover. He claimed himself as a "man of free customs". He said that she's absolutely free in her love affairs, but his real wish is to hold her nearly and not to share her with any of that "damn young ladies' men". As a result, she's fallen in love to the young artist. Soon she left her husband-trustee and moved to another city with the new lover. But not for a long time: in a several years she'll become ill and he'll become rich - so, her return is inevitable...
This film is one of rare "straight stories" in Bunuel filmography. Yes, it has several surrealistic (I'd say "bunuelesque") features: funeral-like wedding (one of the best scenes of the picture) and head instead of a toung of a bell in Deneuve hero's dreams. But the whole film is a simple and straight (but really scary and sad!) story of the moral falling of one girl. There are several real succesfull Bunuel's achievements in the movie: history of the getting older philanderer who is apt to narcissism; wedding scene that I've already mentioned; using of town streets to create a specific mood. But power of Deneuve's performance is so great (I can't remeber such a striking turning from the innocent "ewe lamb" to the cold arrogant debauchee in cinema history) that it affects the movie itself and destroys author's irritation and cruelty (so common for Bunuel's movies!) and fill the movie with specific soft athmosphere. Deneuve becomes one of authors of the movie - and Bunuel (fortunately!) can't avoid her influence.