Viridiana (1961)

“I’m not a good liar, Uncle. I respect you, and I’m grateful for your material support — but beyond that, no affection.”

Synopsis:
Viridiana (Silvia Pinal), a novice nun, is sent to visit her sick uncle (Fernando Rey) before taking her vows. When she rebuffs his lecherous advances, he hangs himself, and leaves his farm estate to her. Viridiana turns the farm into a haven for the homeless, but quickly finds that her good intentions are once again being abused.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
The futility of noble intentions in the face of a thankless and debased humanity has never been portrayed more powerfully than in Luis Bunuel’s controversial Viridiana. Banned as “subversive” in Franco’s Spain, the film was snuck out of the country, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and received worldwide distribution from its Mexican producer. As usual, Bunuel (a life-long atheist and nonconformist) holds absolutely nothing back in his indictment of Catholicism, which is portrayed as “neither moral nor Christian in attitude”. He glibly exploits sexual perversions (ranging from necrophilia to incest to rape), and infuses his film with outrageously “kooky characters” and “deadpan humor”. The satire is broadly played, and while “American conservatives [may] delight in how Bunuel depicts the poor as freeloading ingrates”, it’s clear that this film is more about the loss of Viridiana’s (and our) naive idealism than anything else.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Silvia Pinal’s sympathetic performance as the well-meaning Viridiana
  • Fernando Rey, appropriately lecherous as Viridiana’s guilt-ridden uncle
  • The broad array of “kooky characters” who come to live on Viridiana’s farm
  • The sacrilegious “gluttonous-orgiastic” beggars’ banquet, meant to overtly mock Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”

Must See?
Yes. This once-scandalous film remains among Bunuel’s best, and is required viewing for film fanatics.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Viridiana (1961)”

  1. Yes, a must. One of Bunuel’s more straightforward, accessible films, it lends itself comfortably to multiple viewings. Having just seen it again, I was reminded of
    the fact that Bunuel took issue with (was offended by?) Bellocchio’s “Fists in the Pocket’. An example of one iconoclast feeling outdone by another? (It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to knock other filmmakers.) “Viridiana’ may not be as “scandalous’ as it once was but it’s threaded with various elements/symbols/images that keep it compelling — this time, I was struck by: the switchblade crucifix; the Last Supper pose by the beggars — an image further “cheapened’ when a woman lifts her skirt to it; the final scene (played against a song with lyrics in English: “I love her and she loves me — we’re gonna shake two apple trees…”) which suggests an impending three-way tryst — as Francisco Rabal’s Jorge says: “You won’t believe it, but the first time I saw you I thought, “My cousin Virdiana and I will end up shuffling the deck together.’”

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