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Directed by Luis Bunuel
Produced in 1961
Main Language - SPANISH with English subtitles
A contemporary cartoon by Alberto Isaac describes well the initial indignation and subsequent reaction to Buñuel returning to Franco’s Spain to make his first film there for 22 years. In the first frame Buñuel arrives in Spain and is greeted warmly by Franco as a man protests in the background. In the second frame Buñuel gives Franco a beribboned box. The protestor continues to protest. In the third, the box explodes in Franco’s face, Buñuel leaves and the protestor is dumbfounded. Shocking (still), blasphemous, fetishistic, perverse, Viridiana might well have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but remained banned in Spain until 1977.
The film begins when lonely old rascal Don Jaime invites his niece, virginal novice Viridiana, to his country estate for a last visit before she takes her vows. She never returns to the convent, her experiences there leading her to see her life’s ‘humble work’ as caring for the poor and the sick with a regime of work, a healthy diet and early nights. The motley collection of beggars she rounds up has other ideas. ‘Let’s kill a couple of lambs and eat them’, one says as soon as Viridiana is out of the way. Breaking into the house they find the cutlery and cloths: ‘To die without eating off such wonderful linen!’ one bemoans. Cut to a drunken hand spilling a glass of red wine at the start of the infamous scene that wickedly parodies Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’ and has the beggars dancing in Don Jaime’s wife’s trousseau to Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.
There’s an understated perversity running through the film that complements the set-pieces well, as with Don Jaime trying on his wife’s wedding shoes and corset, or his servant’s daughter skipping below the tree from which Don Jaime hangs himself (with the skipping rope he bought for her). ‘Don Jaime liked to watch me skip’ she says. You get the feeling that Don Jaime in his death has a smile on his face.
Objects too travel through the film along with people: the skipping rope that is a means to look at a young girl’s legs becomes a noose and then the cord for a pair of beggar’s trousers. Buñuel has the capacity to make the smallest details indecent too, as when Don Jaime’s son Jorge puts his fingers into a tiny jewelled purse after he has talked about his attraction for Viridiana. Even the Spanish censor had a hand in unwittingly making the film more suggestive than originally planned by forcing Buñuel to change the ending to something apparently more innocent and acceptable, but which, because of the double-meaning of the words for the card game they are playing, suggests that Viridiana, Don Jorge and Ramona are about to embark on a ménage a trois.
The camerawork, usually one of the overlooked aspects of Buñuel’s films is typically discreet, understated and efficient. Indeed, it’s so unobtrusively effective you actually have to force yourself to notice it.
Completely indifferent to niceties such as piety and goodness, the film is, need it be said, thoroughly enjoyable – as long as you are attuned to Buñuel’s predisposition to finding humour in everything human nature has in it. Hallelujah.
Graeme Hobbs on 11th August 2006
Author of 297 reviews
Bunuel's notorious black humour, anti-clericalism and scathing satire are used to perfection in this provocative look at innocence lost. An idealistic young novice about to take her vows visits her estranged uncle and encounters a world of morbid desires, corruption and depravity. The parody of the Last Supper set to Handel's Messiah is legendary. Shocking, perhaps, but never without purpose.
Publisher: Arrow Films
Length: 87 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 28th August 2006
Cat No: FCD298
by Anon on 20th February 2001
Enjoyable, funny & well staged. Read on
Enjoyable, funny & well staged. Hide
by Liam Williams on 25th October 2012
Of all of Luis Bunuel's films - this is the one that I enjoy the most and has found a permanent place in my collection. Read on
Of all of Luis Bunuel's films - this is the one that I enjoy the most and has found a permanent place in my collection. Hide
“Bunuel's Spanish Bomb”
by Anonymous on 20th May 2014
Bunuel's second film to be made in his native Spain (after 'Las Hurdes' in 1931), Viridiana is widely regarded as one of the director's masterpieces. A deceptively sim... Read on
Bunuel's second film to be made in his native Spain (after 'Las Hurdes' in 1931), Viridiana is widely regarded as one of the director's masterpieces. A deceptively simple story of a novice nun's awakening to the cruel realities of the world, the film is laced with assaults on the church, the state and humanity in general, whilst retaining a blackly comic charm. Although it won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1961, the film was banned in Spain where Franco's military dictatorship considered it blasphemous.
With the plight of the main character a nun named Viridiana (played with wonderful wide-eyed virtue by Sylvia Pinal) the director reasserts his conviction that nobody is innocent, and with that assertion this could be an incredibly bleak film, if it were directed by anyone other than Bunuel. There are many deliciously barbed swipes at organised religion, nave notions of charity and the landed gentry of Francos Spain. The controversial and much-discussed central scene of the film is a literal beggars-banquet involving a mock-up of the Last Supper by a troupe of drunken down and outs.
Did I also mention that the film is beautifully shot in a typically discreet style, features wonderful performances from Bunuel favorites Francisco Rabal and Fernando Rey, and contains one of the best closing double-entendres in any movie ever?
This film needs to be seen and marks a perfect centre-point between Bunuels earlier Mexican period of film-making and his later, perhaps more overtly surrealist French period.
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