Friday, December 6, 2013


This 1961 film by Louis Bunuel is certainly one of his least obviously "surreal", yet it still managed to get banned in Spain,  denounced by the Vatican,  and awarded the Palme d'or at Cannes.  While hope and hopelessness may be main themes here,  Bunuel maintains that irrational belief (whether secular or secret) determines our destinies,  and that mores have a kind of fluidity depending on one's situation,  and are far from absolute. VIRIDIANA is split into two sections.  The first sets the narrative spinning with its depiction of a young catholic novice (the lovely Silvia Pinal as Viridiana) visiting her uncle/benefactor Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) who longs for his dead wife to the point of fetishistic transvestism,  and sees a likeness of her in his niece. That is precisely the point where desire and repression meet,  a favorite Bunuel motif.  A child's jump-rope recurs here in many guises:  as toy,  hangman's noose,  and restraint,  all equally essential to the narrative.  The second part of the film deals with the aftermath of Don Jaime's suicide and how it precipitates change,  another Bunuel favorite.  It's this vision of life in flux that posits his idea of hope in nearly all his films.  This latter section features Francisco Rabal as Don Jorge,  Don Jaime's  illegitimate and practical-minded son,  as well as a host of beggars that are  given refuge and charity at the estate under Viridiana.  The novice's guilt (from her near rape by Don Jaime and his subsequent suicide) forms a kind of shackle that is only eased through acts of charity,  hardly a reason for such kindness.  In the penultimate scene of the film,  the beggars unloose a bacchanal after breaking into the main house in which gluttony,  inebriation and rape ensue. The group is posed and photographed by one of the beggars recreating daVinci's "The Last Supper", quite a deal-breaker for the Vatican.  The final scene suggests Viridiana's change from the spiritual to the sensual when she joins Don Jorge and his maid/lover for a game of cards.  Menage 'a trois,  anyone? The world Viridiana sought to escape in the convent is ultimately embraced by her. Tragic? Maybe.  Blasphemy?  I hardly think so.

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