[Film Review] Viridiana (1961)

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Title: Viridiana
Year: 1961
Country: Spain, Mexico
Language: Spanish
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Luis Buñuel
Writers: Luis Buñuel, Julio Alejandro
Music: Gustavo Pittaluga
Cinematography: José F. Aguayo
Silvia Pinal
Francisco Rabal
Fernando Rey
Margarita Lozano
José Calvo
Victoria Zinny
José Manuel Martín
Luis Heredia
Joaquí Roa
Lola Gaos
María Isbert
Teresa Rabal
Juan García Tiendra
Rosita Yarza
Rating: 8.2/10

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Loosely based on Benito Pérez Galdós’ novel HALMA (uncredited though), Buñuel’s Palme d’Or winner VIRIDIANA, an honor shared with Henri Colpi’s THE LONG ABSENCE (1961), can brazenly make anyone endowed with a common moral sense feel uneasy because it stout-heartedly touches a raw nerve in its allegory story.

Our titular protagonist (Pinal, virtuous and delectably pious) is a novitiate who is about to take her vow, but is press-ganged by her mother superior (Yarza), to visit her only relative, uncle Don Jaime (Rey, acting up a rather creepy character with a fretful ambiguity between trepidation and delirium), whom she only has met once before and who has been financing all her expense thus far. Once there, a moribund Jaime is revitalized by her resemblance of his deceased wife (Viridiana’s aunt), and will do anything even it is beyond the pale, to persuade Viridiana to stay (and preferably by marrying him), it is not above him to drug her with an intention of deflowering her, when every other means falls through due to his niece’s intractability, he has one last extreme measure to entrap her in the lot, which chimes in with audience’s apprehension that Viridiana can never leave that place, echoes Buñuel’s next picture THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962).

Viridiana stays forsooth, cardinally impelled by a feeling of guilty (a corollary of intensive religious indoctrination, which is more than likely, lost in a non-believer’s frame of mind) stemmed from the aftermath, her penance is to minister to any number of paupers she can find in the neck of the woods, who are quartered in an outbuilding of her bequeathed property, co-shared with Don Jaime’s illegitimate son Jorge (Rabal).

No one ought to blame Viridiana’s noble, philanthropic vocation (but whether it is totally selfless is arguable, again much obliged to the guilt complex that is drummed into its devotees by way of religion), only she underestimates the underbelly of human nature, and her indiscriminate kindness is destined to recoil in a spectacular fashion, and Buñuel archly devises all seven deadly sins into the raucous proletarian horseplay that includes a woman flashing her skirt after a THE LAST SUPPER tableau vivant, and Viridiana is nearly a hair’s breadth with a fate worse than death.

When the dust settles, a reconciliation quietly gels in the finale when Viridiana visits Jorge’s room in the night and is invited by him to play cards with him and their maid Ramona (Lozano, palpably lets up on a less choosier master as the low hanging fruit who will not miss a chance to be treated superior than a mere servant, amoral or not). Never vociferous or vehement, Buñuel, for all his surrealistic propensities and unparalleled conceits, is a level-headed, somewhat puckish rebel equipped with striking dexterity and sublime sangfroid, every statement is in the details, from Viridiana’s temporal apparel, her surprised reaction when she catches sight of Ramona also in Jorge’s chamber, to her resignation to the secular divertissement, an anticlerical statement thrusts so sharply in the flesh of hypocrisy, that before blood can even splatter, the camera already weaves away and that is a wrap.

Buñuel’s eminent symbolist coups de maître are unmissable, a skipping rope, a crown of thorns, Viridiana’s somnambulant ritual with dirt and dogs tethered to passing wagons, all pregnant with his tacit understanding of a realistic world, warts and all. Ostensibly misanthropic, the true worth of VIRIDIANA resides in its razor-sharp perception and a tactile modus operandi to shed its light on a much more omnipresent picture, irrefutably, it is Buñuel’s chef d’oeuvre a posteriori.

referential entries: Buñuel’s DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964, 7.9/10); THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962, 7.9/10); SUSANA (1951, 6.9/10).

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