Friday, May 27, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 5/29/07.

One of Spain's greatest and controversial artists, Luis Bunuel was a film director whose films of surrealism, religion, and imagery has captured the imagination of many. Yet, during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Bunuel left Spain to sought artistry only to find freedom 10 years later in Mexico. During that period, he would make acclaimed films like Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones), El (This Strange Passion), Ensayo de un Crimen (The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz), and Nazarin in 1958. In 1961, Bunuel finally makes a return to Spain during the time of the Franco where he made one of his most controversial films about a nun trying unsuccessfully to help the poor entitled Viridiana.

Written by Bunuel and Julio Alejandro, Viridiana tells the story of a nun who is sent by her convent to visit her uncle. The image of the nun reminds the uncle of his deceased wife. The visit shakes the nun's idealism as she hopes to do good in helping the poor. Directed by Bunuel, the film explores religion and its strictness as well as dark behaviors in some of its characters towards an innocent young woman. Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, and Francisco Rabal. Viridiana is a superb yet controversial masterpiece from the legendary Bunuel.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is expected to take her vows in the next few days until her Mother Superior suggests she should visit her uncle whom she hasn't seen in a long time. Her uncle Jaime (Fernando Rey) is living alone with a maid, her daughter, and a farmer as Viridiana decides to make the visit for a few days. Upon arriving, she meets the maid Ramona (Margarita Lozano) and her daughter Rita (Teresa Rabal) as Viridiana looks eerily like her late aunt. Jaime's newfound obsession of his wife and how his niece looks like her brought some troubling behaviors as Ramona watches. Noticing her often strict behavior and dedication to her faith, Jaime makes a plan to have her stay a bit longer. On Viridiana's final night, he attempts to seduce her but only receive an insult from his niece. Ramona drugs her later on as Jaime's attempt to seduce while asleep fails again.

With Viridiana finally leaving and learning about the truth of what happened last night, Jaime's guilt takes over as he feels he's sinned and does a final sinful act. Viridiana is then forced to come home to learn about what her uncle has done. With Viridiana now running the house with Ramona, Rita, and their farmer. Viridiana hopes to redeem herself by not returning to the convent and make her uncle's home into something that would help the poor. Taking on a group of beggars, she decide to help them while Jaime's estranged son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) arrives to become the new Don. With girlfriend Lucia (Victoria Zinny), Jorge hopes to bring the farm back to shape. Unfortunately, Jorge feels irritated by the beggars Viridiana has taken in while feeling tense with her. Lucia departs as Jorge finds himself attracted to Ramona.

When Jorge decides to leave town with Viridiana, Ramona, and Rita to conclude some business matters, the beggars decide to get into the house and enjoy a moment of debauchery until Jorge and his company return. The moment causes shockwave's as Viridiana's faith is now shaken to the core.

While the film reveals troubling themes such as incest, faith, and debauchery, the film is really about an innocent young woman whose good intentions are shaken to the core as she ends up questioning her own idealism. Even in a world that is cruel and indifferent to her faith. The film also explores moments of debauchery where although the beggars aren't necessarily bad people, they have a desire to live the rich, carefree life that Jorge and his late father had. There, it destroys everything that Viridiana had intended which is followed by a very horrific, sinful act that destroys her spiritually and emotionally. Then there's some of the film's sexual content which is done in a suggested way. Even in the film's final scene suggested something that was indeed Bunuel's intentions.

The direction that Bunuel made is not just observant but also filled with cynicism on faith, especially Catholicism at the time of Franco-era Spain. Largely because of how the repression of the government at that time caused the sense of alienation among the beggars. Even when the spiritual ideals of Viridiana is clashed in one wonderfully edited sequences with the newfound, industrious attitude that Jorge had. Then there's the infamous dinner sequence which includes a spoof of the Last Supper sequence that is followed by debauchery at its most unbridled. There, Bunuel captures anarchy in its purest form. It was there where the film, at that time, caused a lot of controversy followed by what would happen towards the end. The result is a powerful picture by Bunuel.

Helping Bunuel in his unique yet surreal vision is cinematographer Jose F. Aguayo whose black-and-white photography is exquisite in some of the film's exterior sequences and interior scenes. Yet, some of the camera work in showing the shadows is amazing as well as the close-ups to reveal the emotions and shock. Editor Pedro del Rey does amazing work in the film's editing, notably the scene of Viridiana's prayer cut back-and-forth into the moments of industry to convey her lack of realism. Production designer Francisco Canet does some wonderful work in creating the film's rich look in the home of Don Jaime's. Sound engineer Aurelio Garcia Tijeras does excellent in work in capturing the sound to contrast what's going on and where the scene's at. Composer Gustavo Pittaluga brings in an operatic score that is played on record throughout the film to convey the film's sense of emotion and debauchery in the third act.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with great performances by Jose Calvo, Jose Manuel Martin, Luis Heredia, Joaquin Roa, Maria Isbert, and many others playing the beggars whose moments in the film are a highlight. Victoria Zinny is fine in a small role as Jorge's frustrated girlfriend while Teresa Rabal is great as Ramona's young daughter Rita. Margarita Lozano is in excellent form as the loyal Ramona whose shift of servitude changes as she finds herself attracted to Jorge in which, she is allowed to be herself. Francisco Rabal is great as the charming yet cynical Jorge who is willing to find some kind of power, even as he tries to seduce both Ramona and Viridiana. The late yet legendary Fernando Rey is great as Jaime. A man whose surreal state of mind over his wife's death and guilt causes him to question his own morality and persona. Though it's a small, supporting role, Rey is in fantastic form.

Finally, there's the legendary Silvia Pinal in one of her great performances. Pinal brings a lot of restraint to her role as this innocent young woman unaware about the real world. Pinal's also exudes sexuality with her amazingly gorgeous looks though she only shows a bit of skin throughout the entire film. Her character goes through the biggest amount of development and through this restrained, very non-dramatic performance, it feels natural and just right. It is clear that while she is playing the title character, it's Pinal's performance that is the heart of the film.

When Bunuel was asked to return to Spain by Francisco Franco to make a film suitable for his country, Bunuel said yes but when he presented the resulting film Viridiana with plans to premiere at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival. Franco was extremely angry and had the film banned for many years in Spain while was denounced by the Vatican. The then-Fascist government of Spain tried to have the film banned in its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival but failed. Viridiana ended up sharing the prestigious Palme D'or along with Henri Colpi's The Long Absence. The controversy over Viridiana helped give the film international attention as a film that had to be seen. In 1977, the film finally premiered in Spain at the time when Bunuel had made his final film Cet Obscur Objet du Desir (That Obscure Object in Desire) in France. Bunuel retired until his death in 1983.

Viridiana overall, is an amazing film from Luis Bunuel. Featuring great performances from Silvia Pinal and Fernando Rey, it's a film that might not be as shocking in today's times. Yet, when audiences have to consider what's going on and what Bunuel suggested at the time, the shock value is still there. What is really surprising that when it won the Palme D'or that year, another film that won the year before that featured similar was Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita that also reveled in debauchery and denounced by the Vatican. That film was also banned in Spain for several years until it was shown in 1981. In the end, for a film to reveal innocence lost in the real yet surreal world, Luis Bunuel's Viridiana is the film to check out.

Luis Bunuel Films: Un Chien Andalou - L'Age d'Or - Land Without Bread - (Gran Casino) - (The Great Madcap) - Los Olvidados - (Susana) - (La hija de engano) - (Mexican Bus Ride) - (A Woman Without Love) - (El Bruto) - (El) - (Illusion Travels by Streetcar) - (Wuthering Heights (1954)) - Robinson Crusoe (1954) - (The Criminal Live of Archibaldo de la Cruz) - (El rio y la muerte) - (Cela S'apelle l'Aurore) - (Death in the Garden) - (Nazarin) - (La Fievre a El Pasao) - (The Young One) - The Exterminating Angel - Diary of a Chambermaid - Simon of the Desert - Belle de Jour - (The Milky Way) - Tristana - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - (The Phantom of Liberty) - (That Obscure Object of Desire)

© thevoid99 2011

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