Out of the handful of Buñuel films I’ve seen, I’ve really liked some and been totally baffled by others, but I rarely feel like I totally *get* them on a first watch. In one sense, Viridiana feels a little more straight-forward – it doesn’t have the overtly surrealist flair of Un chien andalou or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, nor the formal experimentation of That Obscure Object of Desire. That said, it’s meant to be a “satire” and a “religious comedy” and I’m sure I didn’t get all the nuances of that aspect of the film.
Viridiana is a novitiate about to take her vows when she gets invited to her uncle’s for a final visit; she doesn’t want to go, but her mother superior insists. While there, her uncle asks her to marry him, then almost rapes her, and that’s only the first section of the movie. The second section has her trying to help out a bunch of poor, diseased, and indigent folks and getting the opposite of thanks in return (and another rape attempt). If ever there were an argument for staying in the nunnery, this seems like it, but I’m not at all sure that’s what Buñuel was going for! There are a lot more religious aspects to the film, including a Sermon on the Mount-esque prayer session with Viridiana, and notably a Last Supper recreation with all the outcasts, so there’s something deeper than my admittedly sleepy first watch could grasp. Something I’ll have to read up on and rewatch with fresher eyes.
Anyway, despite not totally “getting it”, I did find the film quite watchable and even enjoyable despite the terrible things that happen to this woman. The cinematography and art direction are lovely, and lead actress Silvia Pinal is very effective at her shift from idealistic but wary innocence to complete loss of illusions and hope. The men around her give Polanski’s cast of misogynists in Repulsion a run for the creepster gold medal, and the only other woman given much time, the uncle’s long-time housekeeper, is fairly diabolical, thwarting expectations that she’d be on our heroine’s side (my expectations, anyway…). The film also adds an example to Buñuel’s apparent fascination with dinner parties gone awry.
There’s a lot of texture and intriguing interplay to the film, and while the underlying meaning may baffle me, the experience pleased me more than most Buñuels. (For reference, The Exterminating Angel and Belle de jour are the two I actively like.)
Stats and stuff…
directed by Luis Buñuel, written by Julio Alejandro and Luis Buñuel
starring Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey, Jose Calvo, Margarita Lozano
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Viridiana entered my chart:
Viridiana > The Ugly Dachshund
Viridiana > Johnny Tremain
Viridiana < Magnolia
Viridiana < Old Yeller
Viridiana < Rope
Viridiana < Rachel Getting Married
Viridiana < The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
Viridiana < Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Viridiana > Kill List
Viridiana > On the Waterfront
Viridiana < The Kid Brother
Final #904 out of 3662 films on my chart (75%)
It is now my #3 Luis Buñuel film, my #26 Black Comedy, my #4 Religious Comedy, my #42 Satire, my #19 Spanish Language Film, and my #13 film of 1961.
Viridiana was recommended by Josh Haysom, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.
A few more screenshots…