It is set in Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, shortly before Franco and the Day of the Jackboot. Tristana (Deneuve) starts the film as a 19-year-old woman who comes under the guardianship of Don Lope when her mother dies. Don Lope unfortunately has some un-fatherly ideas about young Tristana. Soon enough he has made her his lover. Tristana respected and loved Don Lope when he was a father figure, but after she becomes his lover she grows to hate him. The formerly innocent and sweet Tristana grows bitter and angry after being exploited by her guardian. Eventually, she has her revenge.
- An Arm and a Leg: Tristana gets some sort of leg infection that eventually requires the amputation of her right leg at the knee.
- Catapult Nightmare: Twice. Young Tristana has a nightmare of Don Lope's head as the clapper in the church bell. She has the nightmare again years later, right before she commits Murder by Inaction.
- Greedy Jew: Alluded to when Don Lope makes sure to specify that he sold his stuff to a Jew, when he was broke.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Tristana is so innocent that she giggles when Don Lope first kisses her. He makes her a lot less innocent.
- Match Cut: From a brazier in Don Lope's household to a spinning number wheel in a park.
- Murder by Inaction: Sort of. With Don Lope having some sort of attack, Tristana pretends to call the doctor without actually doing so. Then inaction turns to action when she opens the window to the bitter winter cold.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Horacio reacts badly when Tristana confesses that she's Don Lope's lover. He gets over it immediately afterwards.
- Same Language Dub: Catherine Deneuve was French and Francisco Nero (Horacio) was Italian. All of their dialogue was dubbed into Spanish.
- Sexless Marriage: Young innocent Tristana lets Don Lope have sex with her, but when a more worldly Tristana marries Don Lope, she won't let him touch her.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: The door closes as Tristana is undressing for sex with Don Jaime.
- Snow Means Death: On a bitterly cold winter night, Tristana opens up the bedroom window to help Don Jaime croak.
- Talent Double: We never see Catherine Deneuve connected to the hands that are playing the piano.
- Widow's Weeds: It's for her mother, actually, but Tristana is dressed in the standard black mourning outfit at the beginning.