“If you want to make a documentary you should automatically go to the fiction, and if you want to nourish your fiction you have to come back to reality.”
Jean-Luc Godard

Friday, February 17, 2012

Viridiana (1961): Luis Bunuel's Case Study on Bourgeoisie Plight and its Underlining Causes

Bunuel's lampoon on organized religion and associated hypocrisies


By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 


viridiana, directed by luis bunuel
Viridiana (1961)  - By Luis Buñuel
Our Rating: 10.0
IMDb Ratings8.2
Genre: Drama
CastSilvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal
Country: Spain | Mexico
Language: Spanish
Runtime: 90 min
Color: Black and White



Summary: Viridiana, a young nun about to take her final vows, pays a visit to her widowed uncle at the request of her Mother Superior.

Viridiana is a 1961 movie directed by renowned Spanish auteur and surrealist Luis Bunuel. Regardless of the inhibitions that one may encounter, it's always a matter of great cachet and honor to review the work of a virtuoso like Luis Bunuel. Calling Bunuel merely a movie-maker would not only be an understatement, but also an invidious remark. Bunuel was a pioneer in every sense of the word and his avant garde works were highly influential and thought-provoking. 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'. Bunuel's directorial debut, Un Chien Andalou, a prototypical work in Surrealism, is a living example of Bunuel's vision and imaginative genius as a movie-maker and more importantly as a student of cinema. 

Spanish Actress Silvia Pinal asViridiana, Directed by Luis Bunuel
Spanish Actress Silvia Pinal as Viridiana
Bunuel was averse to explaining or promoting his works and aptly enough his surrealist works are so personal, distinctive and elaborative in style and manner that no one but Bunuel was worthy of judging or explaining them. Fortunately for me the first Bunuel 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 Bunuelesque oeuvre. Bunuel 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 preachings 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 Bunuel works also manages to bring in a humanistic element with a somber yet sensual touch. 

Viridiana, directed by luis bunuel, actress silvia pinal
A Still from Viridiana
The questions that Bunuel 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.

Fernando Rey as Don Jamie, Viridiana, silvia pinal, directed by luis bunuel
Fernando Rey as Don Jamie in Viridiana
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.

Fernando Rey as Don Jamie in Viridiana, silvia pinal in wedding dress, directed by luis bunuel
A Still from Viridiana
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 savored through viewing rather than reading. 

The Last Supper Sequence from Viridiana, disapproved by The Vatican, Viridiana, directed by Luis Bunuel
A Still from Viridiana's infamous Last Supper Sequence
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 severe condemnation from the Vatican. 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 like Belle de Jour (1967), The Exterminating Angel (1962), to which Woody Allen has paid a tribute in his latest flick Midnight in Paris (2011), and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated! 
 
For Best Films by Luis Bunuel, please click here

For more information on the title, please click on the following the links:
 
IMDb
Viridiana (1961) Trailer


8 comments :

  1. I myself am a hardcore Bunuel fan. Thanks for making merejoice those old memories.

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  2. I have just watched this film for the first time.

    For me the key scene is when the Mother Superior visits Viridiana after he uncle's death. This brief scene shows the suspicion of the religious superior who suspects that Viridiana has been unchaste and how she abruptly terminates the meeting and leaves Viridiana, who has refused to return to the convent. One remembers that Viridiana did not want to visit her uncle at all and was ordered so to do by the Mother Superior since the Uncle had paid Viridiana's dowry. One wonders whether the Mother Superior was hoping that the uncle would be encouraged by Viridiana's visit to leave money to the convent in her will. "Be affectionate to him" she is told by the Superior.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Brian for sharing your valuable observation. Unfortunately, I was not observant enough to notice what you had observed in the very scene that you have mentioned. In order to have a deeper understanding of your observation, I went back to the movie and found it to be pretty relevant. Bunuel was a cynic and it showed in most of his works: be it Belle de Jour, Dairy of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, or Viridiana. Like Bergman, Bunuel too was a staunch condemner of Conservatism associated with the Catholic preaching, or for that matter with any religion. In Viridiana, he cuts naked the hypocrisies of such religious conservatism. Now, your pithy observation fits really well to my understanding of Bunuel and his acerbic style of movie-making that very few could fathom and digest in those times. Thanks once again for extending the dimensions of my understanding.

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  3. It's nice to see a great review for a Luis Bunuel movie. I am big fan of him. Viridiana is one of the easily accessible Bunuel movie, than Andalusian Dog or Belle de jour.

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    Replies
    1. As always, I am floored by your generosity. His surrealist masterworks are even more challenging not only to analyse but also to interpret.

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  4. I have never watched Bunuel's works. This is an eye-opener for me and you analyse the movie so well. How do I watch it?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Bhavana for those nice words. I am a huge Bunuel fan. Widely regarded as the father of Surrealism in Cinema, Bunuel was a master of his Art that (against the popular notion) was not limited to Surrealism. Movies like Dairy of a Chambermaid and Viridiana are prime examples of his versatility as a movie-maker. His works on Bourgeois modus vivendi are indeed of scholarly importance.

      You can find more info about Bunuel and his works at:

      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000320/

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Thanks for sharing for valuable opinion. We would be delighted to have you back.

 

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