By Nevin Ulusoy

It is a man’s world we live in, let us accept this fact. A world that ignores women’s healing power, their talent for dreaming, breathe of life, a world that wants to destroy, crash, repress and enslave their free souls. That’s why it is a pitiless world that brings misery over misery, blesses extinction rather than existence. A world that does not know innocence, purity, dedicates itself to exterminate beauty. As women try to prove their existence, try to be themselves in this world, if they want to show the cruelty in their lot, everything becomes more man-dominated. A woman is powerful being a woman actually. It is not hatred of men, but hatred of how men are described. As Emma Goldman says women have to be freed from the idea that two sexes can never compromise and it is not a war between the sexes. Sex, says Goldman, in its real meaning does not know the defeated or the victor. 

“Tristana”, the novel by great Spanish writer Benito Pérez Galdós, is a masterpiece on thinking of the problem of women’s existence as they are on equal terms with men. Galdós was a realist novelist and the most important writer in Spain in the nineteenth century. He is accepted as the best novelist in Spanish after Miguel de Cervantes. He was born in 1843 and died in 1920. He published 31 novels, 23 plays, also wrote shorter fiction, works of journalism and more. He is also thought to be equal to Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy. Some of his novels have been adapted to cinema and “Tristana” is one of them. It was published in 1892. Luis Buñuel, one of the greatest Spanish directors, a real wizard of the white screen, directed the film in 1970. 

She is not to be restrained in any way with her free soul yearning for an absolute free existence beyond her time. 

“Tristana” is an orphan living with her father’s friend Don Lope. Don Lope helped her father when he had too much debt, and lost a great deal of his fortune as well. He has a generous heart, but he is a real Don Juan. His utmost aim in life has always been conquering the hearts of women, the more innocent, virtuous, the greater the victory. Tristana is his last and most glorious victory, the crown of his elderly days. He is around fifty but looks younger and how he looks is nearly the most important thing in his existence. Tristana, in her very early womanhood, was seduced by him, but no longer likes the way their relationship is. Don Lope has enslaved her, keeping her under great restraint, but she is not to be restrained in any way with her free soul yearning for an absolute free existence beyond her time. She has only one friend, Saturna the maid. She absolutely knows her situation in life, but rejoices in it, because as a result she is free of the only fate, only future, only way of existence of females of her time: Marriage. It is also almost the only career a woman can have. Tristana asks Saturna how she can earn her own living, how she can totally be independent as a woman. Saturna names only three careers, the first one is marriage of course, then theatre and she does not want to name the third one. Saturna thinks it is not fit for a woman thinking of independence. Tristana’s aim in life is nothing else than freedom, total freedom. She utterly trusts herself in the fields that are thought only for men. She hates the idea of marriage, as much as Don Lope in a way. We see it more clearly when she falls in love with an artist. Her ideas are absolutely beyond her time. We see how talented she is as well, she works with her lover, she has a great talent for language learning as well. Her lover wants to marry her, has a standard value of life, thinking that the best career for a woman would be to be with the man she loves and give him children, expressing the wishes of most people, buried deep in the subconscious. Tristana thinks she can live with a man without the bondage of marriage but no children. In her time motherhood is shown as the ultimate aim of a woman’s life, it is necessary for a woman to be a complete woman. But life is full of surprises and things turn out to be totally different. Her illness changes the life forever for her, and the end of a nineteenth century novel does not change, in a mocking way maybe.

Buñuel’s adaptation is different in many ways from the novel. It takes place in late 1920s and early 1930s. It gives us a more wide range of understanding of the novel. Tristana enslaves Don Lope in a way and as she does that becomes more and more attractive. Catherine Deneuve and Fernando Ray act in the film. It is an international film, co-production between Spain, France and Italy. It was the nominee of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was shown at Cannes Film Festival in 1970 out of competition.   

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