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This film portrays the abysmal differences between people with
different educations and senses of morality. At the same time, it is a
commentary on the hopelessness of a society where no one understands
why the status quo should be tampered with. No summary could really do
this film justice since the visual impressions and symbols are just as
important as the express message portrayed by the events.
But here goes: A novice is forced by circumstances to leave her convent and visit her uncle, falling under the influence of her world wise cousin. She tries to maintain her ideals by doing good works but is taken advantage of and despised by the very people she means to help.
Viridiana was the first film Buñuel filmed from exile and (so the story goes) the church was in an uproar and adamant that it be censored. Perhaps this is because none of the characters seem to give a fig about the teachings of the church except for the novice. Perhaps it is because one of the messages that seems clear is that the church is ineffectual in its efforts to improve the human condition. However, the depth of the story speaks more to the social condition in general -similar in all of Europe at the time- and the church was merely a part of that.
It is possible that a superficial viewing might interpret the characters to represent specific political factions from the era when the film was made but I believe that is an error. Even Franco, if we are to believe what we are told today, didn't personally see anything wrong with the film when he saw it and his order that all copies be destroyed was given in the interest of appeasing the church. People who appreciate quality film will be grateful that at least one copy survived the mass destruction by being sent to France.
Few film directors have worked with the sheer power and subversiveness that
Spanish-born Luis Buñuel have. "Viridiana" is one of the best examples of
the exiled Spaniard's feelings towards religious faith and its virtues- or
his strong denial of religion as a virtue.
Buñuel started out as a Surrealist, and although he left the Surrealist Circle of Paris lead by André Breton, he always kept elements of Surrealism in his work, to the bitter end. So too in "Viridiana", where dreams play a small, but important part of the narrative, dreams being the Surrealists' main theme as a way of discovering repressed sexuality and aggression. Viridiana is a young nun who is, on the grounds of showing human compassion, talked into visiting her uncle Don Jaime, who is ill. Don Jaime, played by Buñuel regular Fernando Rey, is caring, but perverse. He falls in love with his niece, and does everything with the help of his maid, to keep Viridiana from parting to the convent, including lying to her and seducing her while she is trainquilized.
I am not going to give away all the events of the film, but the corruption of humanity and Christianity are soon evident, as Viridiana tries to help poor beggars and give them a worthy life. Her attempts at Christian charity are only met with self-pity and egocentricity, as the beggars go on a rampage reminiscient of the last supper of Jesus christ and his disciples. Violence, murder, gluttony and rape are all included to make a clear picture of the way the beggars have lost their human virtues to the hardship of poverty. We see the events through Viridiana's eyes, and everything she goes through suggests a broken belief in the goodness of both human beings and the faith she kept for so long.
A masterpiece in revolutionary cinema, this film won the Palm d' Or at Cannes in 1961, and the Spanish Board of Film were all fired afterwards, as Franco's regime could not quite swallow that "Viridiana" was the official Spanish contribution to the Festival.
"Viridiana" and "Tierra Sin Pan" (a documentary) are two of the most
cutting portraits of Spanish misery and poverty in the 20 that passed
after 1936's Civil War. Buñuel had no mercy and put everybody in their
The pious Viridiana (Silvia Pinal, wonderful!) who leaves the convent to come to live with his uncle in the country. His uncle (Fernando Rey, magnificent!), a man defeated by life who lives in the past and, finally, suicides. His cousin (Paco Rabal, the man!), which come to the country house looking for his inheritance. The tramps that Viridiana takes in... Some of the best characters in the history of cinema, and some of the best sequences ever filmed (that one with the tramps celebrating such a crazy party).
A fierce look against Spanish society, against religion and against the human condition itself. I'd pay for watching the face of dictator Franco's censors when they watched "Viridiana". They could have Buñuel shot for that. Luckily, he went to Mexico.
Well, this is a movie to talk about for hours and hours... Anyway, you just watch it and prepare to feel what cinema's about.
*My rate: 10/10
Viridiana (1961) is a tale about a young nun who's so into her faith that
she tries to do what she feels is morally and
ethically right. Sadly, the world has changed and no matter how hard she
tries to help those around her, it all winds up
biting her in the end. Viridiana is a rare masterpiece that reflects the
attitudes of the society that people (such as that
"lovable" despot Franco) had created and the archaic teachings of the
Catholic Church. The poor nun is one of the last of the
true believers who adhere's to the dogma of the Church even when most of
their leaders have abandoned it. Even the poor
masses (whom she relies on) fail her. Can she remain true to her faith when
everyone else around her ignores it?
A classic Brunuel film. I enjoy his style of film-making. Especially the way he uses social commentary and makes it entertaining instead of being preachy and hitting the viewers over the head with his "ideals". A hard film to find but it's highly enjoyable. The best scene in the film his the beggars re-enactment of the "Last Supper" painting. Film-making at it's best!
Regardless of the inhibitions that it may engender, it's always a
matter of great cachet and honor to review the work of a virtuoso like
Luis Buñuel. Calling Buñuel merely a movie-maker would not only be an
understatement but also an invidious remark. Buñuel was a pioneer in
every sense of the word and his works avant garde and highly
influential. He is regarded as the father of surrealism in cinema and
his predilection for the morbid and the obscure had earned him the tag
of a 'fetishist'. Buñuel's directorial debut, Un Chien Andalou, a
prototypical work on Surrealism, is a living example of Buñuel's vision
and imaginative genius as a movie-maker and more importantly as a
student of cinema.
Buñuel was averse to explaining or promoting his work and ironically his surrealist works are so personal, distinctive and elaborative in style and manner that no one but Buñuel was worthy of judging or explaining them. Fortunately for me the first Buñuel movie that I have ventured to review does not deal with surrealism. Viridinia is a story of a young nun whose inexorable resolve for redemption ironically takes her to the brink of moral corruption. Viridinia revolves around bourgeois (middle class) modus vivendi and deals with controversial themes of gluttony, blasphemy and adultery which have been an integral part of Buñuelesque oeuvre. Buñuel was a staunch maverick and fittingly his iconoclastic works relentlessly flouted the bourgeois morals and the very root cause of bourgeoisie plight - the conservatism and hypocrisy camouflaged in the preaching of Catholicism and Christianity. Viridiana not only stands equal to the task of mocking organized religion and hypocrisies associated with it but just like other Buñuel works also manages to bring in a humanistic element with a somber yet sensual touch. The questions that Buñuel manages to pose through Viridiana are so straight and naked that even a saint of divine proportions, or a champion of human rights will not only look askance in want of candor but will also be forced to squeal in ghastly terror while trying to answer them. Such was the impact of Viridiana on the The Roman Catholic Church that the Vatican's official newspaper published an article calling Viridiana an insult to Catholicism and Christianity. The movie was banned in Spain and all its prints were destroyed as per the orders of the Spanish autocrat, Francisco Franco. These exaggerated responses were clearly not responsive of the subject material that Viridiana showcased but were the mere consequences of the questions it posed and the answers that it demanded.
Viridiana is a young nun on the verge of taking her final vows. She is asked by her Mother Superior to pay a visit to her estranged uncle, Don Jaime, who has repeatedly expressed his keenness to meet Viridiana. She remembers that her uncle was never there for her whenever she had needed his support. Despite the absence of an emotional urge, she decides to pay him a visit simply out of courtesy. Don Jamie is a recluse rotting in the abject solitude of widowhood, which is making him more vulnerable and desperate with each passing day. Upon meeting his nubile niece, he notices a striking resemblance to his deceased wife. This ray of hope reinvigorates a new sense of purpose in his life as he decides to put forth a marriage proposal in front of Viridiana. He implores her to wear his wife's wedding dress which she reluctantly obliges. When his maid, Ramona informs Viridiana of his intent to marry her, she is appalled, and Don Jaime appears to have dropped the idea. However, Ramona secretly drugs Viridiana drink and Don Jamie carries the unconscious Viridiana to her room with the intention of raping her, but falls short of doing the ignominious. The next morning, he bluffs that he has made her his, and hence she is no longer pure enough to return to the convent. Seeing her undeterred, he concedes the truth, but fails in convincing her fully. Viridiana immediately leaves for the convent but at the bus stop the authorities reveal her that Don Jamie has committed suicide and has left his entire property to her and his illegitimate son, Jorge. Deeply disturbed, Viridiana decides not to return to the convent. Instead, as an act of penance, she brings home an assemblage of beggars and devotes herself to the moral education and feeding of this underprivileged lot. The things become a bit more complicated on the arrival of Jorge who shows a strong inclination for Viridiana. What ensues is a series of amazingly bizarre yet poetic sequences which can best be cherished through viewing rather than description. The penultimate scene depicts the beggars posing for a photo sans camera around the table in which they seem to collectively resemble the figures in Da Vinci's Last Supper; a chair substitutes for the door which now cuts into the fresco, and removes Christ's feet. This scene, in particular, earned the film the Vatican's opprobrium. The controversial finale adds a completely different dimension to Viridiana elevating it to new levels of cognitive interpretation.
In a nutshell, Viridiana is a truly fascinating cinematic experience catapulted to new heights of magnificence by Buñuel's mastery and his unflinching ability to depict the sad and abysmal reality of living under the influence of false and misconstrued religious tenets. Viridiana along with The Diary of a Chamber Maid (1964) are great means of acquainting oneself with Buñuel's oeuvre and can serve as an excellent mock exercise to prepare oneself before exploring Buñuel's exceedingly challenging surrealistic works. 10/10
Forty years on and `Viridiana' is one of the very few, almost unique,
examples of classical Spanish cinema to have survived the turmoil of the
latter half of the last century. It remains as a little light in the midst
of the darkness of the Franco Régime, which promptly banned it, or as an
insouciance to the Vatican, which promptly excomulgated everyone concerned
Buñuel's genius is apparent in every frame: the eye for detail, nonetheless permitting that impromptu evanesqueness which lends exquisiteness to these memorable scenes, above which shines the `Last Supper'. And it is precisely this scene which gives one the impression that the real stars in the making of this film were the motley beggars taken in from the streets. Silvia Pinal and Francisco `Paco' Rabal are not outstanding in this piece; even the incomparable Fernando Rey is overshadowed by the band of social outcasts. The sheer poeticness so brilliantly captured by the camera roaming among the vagabonds is cinematographic exquisiteness carried to its extreme: every grimace, every wrinkled nose, the debauchery, is what makes the principal actors be no such thing, but secondary actors overwhelmed by the nuances and gestures of these `untouchables". Brilliant filming, indeed whether intentional or not or whether this be only my personal interpretation after seeing this film three times in the last twenty five years, is of course open to debate.
Suffice just to mention Lola Gaos: (Tristana (1970) also by Buñuel - is one of her other films worthy of mention, surprisingly accepted by the censor's blue pen). In the 70s her voice began to break up, such that in the end she lived out her last years in poverty, forgotten by the times and cinema makers, until hauled out of hiding for a last TV appearance, sardonic way of giving her a few pennies to eke out to the end of her existence, but by then (1989) her voice was so fragmented it was near impossible to understand her. Her throat-cancer was never treated adequately.
Luis Buñuel (`Thank God I am an atheist') has gone; Fernando Rey has gone; Paco Rabal died yesterday in an aeroplane flying over the English Channel, returning from the Montreal Film Festival where he received his last award .
They leave `Viridiana' as testament to those historical and difficult times, an isolated exposé amid what was, for Spain, a cinematographical desert.
Viridiana may be one of the least surreal films in Luis Bunuel's
career, more than likely, but it has perhaps the most acidic satire in
any of his 1960s work. It's a film that, actually, might be a good
portal into the director's work for those who haven't seen much or any
of his work (though one could always vouch for Discreet Charm or Un
Chien Andalou first). It's actually got a very straightforward
narrative without too many punches pulled in delving into the
characters' psyches. We're given the compassionate, caring, but also
very mixed-up Viridiana, played by Silvia Pinal, beautiful and kind,
but in her ultra-Catholic character is someone who cannot be tempted in
the least. She is, one would suppose, the most conventional character,
and we're just supposed to take for granted, in Bunuelian style, that
she's just like this way. No bother- this is a masterpiece of ensemble
anyway, and an ensemble practically all non-professionals (it almost
seems like Bunuel picked some of them from the same village that
provided Las Hurdes). It's bitter and depressing in its view of
humanity, but it's expertly crafted all the way, and it builds towards
a tremendous climax.
For a while it seems like something very peculiar is going on with Viridiana and her uncle (Fernando Rey, in only a supporting role but one of his very best performances), when he invites her to stay at his home but won't let here leave due to his infatuation with her. Indeed, we see- in one of the funniest bits early on- that he even tries her shoes on, and attempts to have his way with her when drugged. But Bunuel's film, for the most part, isn't necessarily as hilarious in its satire as in his other classics. Actually, it's really more of a dramatic effort here, which is all the more fascinating to me: Bunuel can pull off making what seems, at least for 2/3 of the film, to be a sincere look at how a woman makes an attempt to overcome a tragedy in her family (Rey's character's end) by taking in vagrants and homeless folk and cripples, while her 'cousin' takes over the bourgeois duties. On this level, Bunuel, and his screenwriters, have a fantastic control over the mood of scenes, and then spiking with little visual details things that just strike his fancy (i.e. in the attic with the cat and the rat, or the teats on the cow, or the crown of thorns).
...BUT, then there's a day when Viridiana has to go into town, and those she took in take over the joint, so to speak, and it makes the nighttime party scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest look tame by comparison. This is where finally, as if in a rush of clarity, Bunuel unleashes the fury of his satire, as one sees what the kindness and support that Viridiana tried to do- if not out of the genuine goodness of her heart then as just a way to clear her religiously guilty mind-set over Rey's Uncle- completely, reprehensibly backfires. At this point one sees Bunuel at his naughtiest, most crude, and still as is a given with him, playful (one of the greatest moments in the filmmaker's career comes when he deliberately sets up the Last Supper for the bums). Then, finally, one sees a very cruel and almost dehumanizing catharsis, but maybe it's not really at the same time. There is a powerful message working through much of the picture, where religion, class, attitudes are all tested in the sense of restrictions: how far is too far with temptation and free will? For Bunuel, it can be anything, which is why the outcome of Viridiana taking in the homeless and destitute becomes her psychological downfall (see her hair let down towards the end, and her blank, drained face at the card table).
And yet, all through the symbolism that seems ambiguous (girl jumping rope) and very direct (burning of crown of thorns), and with the scathing mix of sordid drama and black-as-a-bull comedy, Bunuel never loses sight of his vision, and Viridiana is a constantly watchable effort with his gracious, intuitive camera, and his sharp ear for the truth in every character's dialog. Frustrating at times, you bet, and its sensibilities on human nature, and the decisions made, make one re-think what it is to be either rich, poor, or in the middle. But it's also one of the director's best films, and a very deserved Golden Palm winner.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There will never be anyone like him. Since he shocked audiences with
his extremely subversive Surrealist film L'AGE D'OR which showed a
Christ-like figure emerging from 120 days of unimaginable debauchery in
a remote castle looking oddly sensual and sexually free, he's gone hand
in hand with poking fun at those who believe in God, in the Church, and
Due to his personal, political and religious beliefs (he was a staunch atheist) he had been self-imposed to exile with the rise of Francisco Franco who from the mid-Thirties onward threw Spain into a period of repression and stagnant evolution, a situation common and typical of nations under a dictatorship. Bunuel's later success in the country who came to adopt him as one of its own -- Mexico -- brought Spain's eye focusing straight into Bunuel's and Franco decided that maybe Bunuel could be make a movie to his own liking. After all, Spain wasn't yet known for having a strong cinematic presence until then (despite the San Sebastian Film Festival) and it could use all the help it could get. Bunuel up until then was Spain's main exponent of intelligent cinema even in his "for hire" and "less controversial" movies from his Fifties period which at their most Neo-realist always had hints of his fondness for Surrealism.
Would it that Franco had an inkling of what Bunuel, one of the strongest, most stubborn personalities from the past century (whom I admire), had in store as the ultimate rabbit trick. Bunuel grudgingly returned to Spain under the advice (and financing) of Gustavo Alatriste and produced one of the most scathing attacks on Catholicism yet: the story of Sor Viridiana (the great Silvia Pinal, blond and detached in that Hitchcockian-blond way, making her debasement the more fun), the nun who is so devout you want to whack her in the head with a frying pan, who returns to her homestead where her uncle (Fernando Rey) lives and finds that she's up against some interesting opposition and a systematic stripping away at her own faith. First, with the assistance of his faithful but slightly amoral maid Ramona (Margarita Lozano) he decides to drug Viridiana and blackmail her into staying at his house after seeing how similar she looks to his deceased wife and perversely enjoying how she looks in his dead wife's wedding gown. While he stops short of raping her in her sleep, he isn't above telling her she can't leave because they've had sex. Viridiana, horrified, decides to leave even when he tells her he lied. Of course, in typical Bunuel style, he interrupts her attempt at escape, kills off the uncle, and has her return to the house.
An action interrupted has always been present in Bunuel's work. In THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE it's the simple act of eating and socializing. In THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and BELLE DE JOUR, it's intimacy with a loved one. Here, it's not only the return to the safety of religion but altruism as well. Viridiana, now the mistress of the house, has to share it with her cousin Jorge (Francisco Rabal), a man serving as Bunuel's doppelganger as a pragmatic man who believes only hard work will pull the country out of the muck it's in. She takes in the homeless, the disabled, and the poor, giving them food and places to sleep and their daily prayers. Jorge has other plans. In a wicked sequence Viridiana gathers the homeless into prayer as workers steadfastly go around their duties. Bunuel cuts from her glowing, blissful face to the dirty activity around the construction. It's almost as if Bunuel were saying, "It's not us interrupting your prayers -- you're the ones who aren't doing anything. You're in the way of our daily work." Parallel to this, a poignant scene where Jorge shows his humanity towards a dog who is walking under a cart, tied, which he rescues from its fate. Watch as, not a minute after he's purchased the dog from its cruel owners, another cart trudges by, with a dog tied to its underbelly. The cycle of casual cruelty won't stop.
The taking in of the beggars proves to be Viridiana's undoing. While she and the entire household are out, the beggars take control of the house, set up a mock dinner party that spins out of control, which Bunuel films as a reverse Last Supper with the ultimate act of sabotage thrown at it as a woman lifts up her skirt to the camera. While regaining control of the house won't be an easy task -- Viridiana is nearly raped (again) but saved by Jorge who is able to manipulate one of the homeless men into releasing him -- it's clear that Viridiana's actions, coming from a misguided good place, have almost destroyed a generation's worth of tradition in the form of a household. Because Jorge is the character who emerges as the strongest with his knowledge of how to run an estate, he represents the future of Spain, and in having Jorge, Viridiana, and Ramona (faithful to the end) wind up playing cards in an intellectual threesome, the movie hits its mark in effectively killing religion in favor of the practical matters, further seen when a little girl without knowing burns the cross of thorns Viridiana used when she would go into her excruciating prayers as a nun.
A brilliant movie, possibly one of the most significant of last century, one that smeared Spain's upper class society as it did the Church, and the one that got denounced by the Vatican (as if that would matter).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Viridiana" is a sequel to "Nazarin"(not meant pejoratively):both want to be saints,both are compelled to leave religion(Viridiana is raped by her uncle and cannot become a nun).Both will be laïc saints. So Viridiana takes on a bunch of beggars in her home,and tries to educate them by putting them to work.But it's too late,they are rotten to the core,and it's not long before they realize that working is pointless when you have a nice lady to take care of you. In direct contrast to Viridiana,we have her cousin:he's a realist man.For him,Viridiana's charity amounts to nothing.Bunuel proves this right with the memorable scene of the dog:what's the point of saving a poor dog when there are thousands of poor dogs in the world?Viridiana's cousin ,unlike her,does not renounce the pleasures of life and he takes good care of his desirable property. Bunuel reaches in this movie a paroxysm of violence ,satire and grand art.The beggars have a banquet,and Bunuel unleashes his anticlericalism: at the table,the mendicants stand still ,parodying Leonardo's the Last Supper.Then Viridiana is raped while a gramophone is playing ,screaming Hendel's Messiah. Like Nazarin who's got to come back to reality,and who is offered a pineapple (sexual symbol),Viridiana seems to agree to be part of a ménage à trois with her cousin and the servant as she begins to play cards with them. Needless to say,Spain censors were horrified and Bunuel would never make another film in his homeland.
This is a great movie. It is an investigation of the human nature and
attempts to tell an interesting story about the suppression of our inner
instincts. Bunuel, once again, compares the morality that comes from inside
us, i.e., the morality of the subconscious, against the morality which
imposed by society and the various religious organizations.
Bunuel seems sacrilegious, but I think that his movie attacks false piety as opposed to the deeper mysteries of the Catholic faith. Viridiana in the movie is not considerate of her uncle's passion for her and that kills the old man. Her punishment comes later from the unworthy beggars. The moral of the story is that we'd better investigate our flaws and strengths before attempting any encounter with other members of the society. Nobody is perfect and there are different ways to help people out there effectively. Honest work is sometimes more effective than useless acts of charity. If we do not know our selves and we cannot understand others we may deeply hurt people we care for.
All these ideas came to my mind while watching "Viridiana". What a great movie it is. One of the great moments of the movie is a side by side viewing of the honest workers renovating the mansion and the unworthy beggars praying in the fields.
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