Luis Bunuel hated simple readings of his movies.  He said “if the film you’re about to see seems enigmatic, or odd… so is life”.  Bunuel started his career as a surrealist, collaborating with giants such as Salvador Dali, and while some films are difficult to comprehend and alienating as a result, Viridiana functions as a gateway to his work.

The Players:

  • Director: Luis Bunuel
  • Writer: Luis Bunuel, Luis Alejandro, Benito Perez Galdos
  • Cast: Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey

Notes:

Viridiana (Pinal) is a young woman about to take her vows as a nun.  Her uncle Jaime (Fernando Rey), has financially supported her from afar, and yet has only seen her once, asks her to come visit him.   The uncle is seemingly normal but shows himself to be warped and lonely.  A widower and attracted to his niece, Jaime asks Virdiana to stay only to unleash on her a series of bizarre requests, including having her wear his former wife’s bridal dress around the house.  She tries to escape, but is drawn back when he commits suicide.  Viridiana and Jaime’s estranged son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) inherit Jaime’s home.  It seems Viridiana cannot return to the convent, so she decides to provide shelter to a diverse group of beggars at her new home, only they don’t behave according to plan.

The film feels short and uneventful.  I would have loved to have seen Viridiana make harder attempts to reform the beggars, especially when they don’t follow through and act up.  But her character is only interested in providing shelter, food, and “a little bit of human warmth”.  Drunks, prostitutes, dwarfs, lepers and the blind, come to her home.  There’s a defeatist attitude, as the film is mostly concerned with the darker aspects of its characters, their sexual fetishes, their greed, and their crass view of life.

This is not great film, but it is one that holds a respectable place in cinema.  Viridiana was banned in Spain until 1977, after Franco’s death and there was a time when Franco had ordered all things related to the film to be destroyed.  Prints of the film were buried and smuggled to Mexico.  Being anti-clergy, it is of little suprise that Bunuel also managed to piss off the Vatican due to a scene in which crude beggars have dinner and pose for a picture that resembles Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  Much of Viridiana’s “greatness” stems from the circumstances surrounding its making and its “shocking” imagery.

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

Mr. Ebert, you hit the nail on the head in your review when you say that Bunuel films have a “cheerfully sardonic view of human nature”.  And I agree that for those who love great movies, sooner or later you arrive at Bunuel. This film isn’t on par with Los Olvidados or Belle De Jour, though – even The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie feels more daring.  Viridiana is respectable; Bunuel satisfies the commonly held notion that we, as inherently flawed humans, are helpless against the dark side of life.  You point out a scene that most clearly makes this point.  “Jorge, observes a dog tied to the rear axle of a cart, and being pulled along the road on a rope. He stops the peasant, and buys the dog to free it. He doesn’t notice another dog tied to another cart, going in the other direction. This summarizes Buñuel’s world view.”  It holds us captive in its demonstration of human beings acting out their base natures, “always ready to pounce”.  I was intellectually engaged, but from a distance.

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  GOOD

Do you like Viridiana?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  My Neighbor Totoro

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of 354 films.  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Luis Bunuel’s Viridiana this week, he now has 276 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.