Tristan - Film

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This article will collect modern film adaptations of the Tristan legend and point out the variations. At the same time it will attempt to explain these variation in a dramaturgical fashion. This article should be critical. Questions such as "Is it sensible to skew the model in this fashion?", "How long did it take for the material to be brought to life?", "Is this portrayal successful?", "Is the material more accessible because of the changes and at the same time, is it still as true to the work as possible?" are desired.

Tristana (1970)

Tristana is a French-Spanish coproduction directed by Luis Bunuel. In 1971 the film was nominated for an Oscar as the best foreign language film. The main role of the young Tristana was played by Catherine Deneuve.


The film takes place in Spain the 1930‘s. The young orphan Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) is adopted by the man-about-town, Don Lope (Fernando Rey). However, he also takes Tristana as his lover. Tristana, who tries to extract herself from his grasp, finds refuge in the arms of the young painter Horacio (Franco Nero). However she finds no satisfaction with him either. After two years, Horacio brings Tristana back to Don Lope. Tristana becomes terribly ill, and even has to have her lower leg amputated. A priest persuades her to marry Don Lope, however she refuses the wedding night. When Don Lope becomes ill a year later and asks Tristana to get help, she pretends to fulfill his request and waits until Don Lope dies.


Keppler-Tasaki sees this film adaptation of the Tristan story as "a story about sexual frustration and its resulting perversion, to which the location of Toledo contributes its medieval atmosphere." In the opening scene on the city wall there is a short pretense of medieval times. As Keppler-Tasaki knows, Bunuel was a professed Wagnerian, because he uses a lot of Wagner’s music in his films.

Changes from the Original

Tristana is not a Tristan film in the real sense, but rather a derivation of the central motive of the Tristan story. The direct basis of the film is the book by Benito Pérez Galdós. The young Tristana stands, like Isolde, between two men, the older Don Lope, whom she does not love and her young lover Horacio. The motive of the secret love,like the name 'Tristana' and the medieval-looking setting in Toledo suggest the Tristan story. In contrast to Gottfried‘s Tristan, the love between Tristana (Isolde) and Horacio (Tristan) is not absolute and also not long-lived. Tristana is more about social forces and independence, reverence and contempt.