Luis Bunuel based his pic on an obscure novel by Spain’s prolific, realistic, humorless literary giant, Benito Perez Galdos, who, throughout his life, showed a penchant for liberalism, a taste for analyses of Spanish life at all levels, and a strong involvement with the multifold problems of his country. [He died in 1920.]
Those seeking the Bunuel touches of black humor, digs at Church and Establishment, irreverence and criticism, and an overall condemnation of Spanish mores and hypocrisy, will find a modicum of scenes here to titillate their palates. Yet Bunuel, despite occasional digs, has remained more or less respectful.
Much of the pic [which deals with the love-hate relationship between an orphaned girl and her elder protector] is rather somber. Shots are limited to a few key locations: the local cafe, the house of Don Lope, several of the streets of Toledo, an artist’s studio, a belfry, etc. Weighing upon all these scenes is a vision of life in Spain in the 1920s.
As Don Lope, Fernando Rey is superb. He seems completely at ease in the part. Catherine Deneuve, though she brings considerable acting talents to the title role, cannot hide the fact that she is a foreigner, though her voice is skillfully dubbed. Franco Nero (also non-Spanish) plays the role of a young artist competently.