- Luis Buñuel
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The storyline is quite simple but so full of small complexities it’s unbelievable. It deals with an innocent nun, Viridiana (Pinal), who’s commanded by her Mother Superior (Rosita Yarsa) to visit her uncle and life-long benefactor, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey). The girl gives in following her vow of obedience, and finds in the old man a nice relative with nothing but good intentions. Things turn bad however when he becomes obsessed with her similarity to his late wife, and decides that she should stay with him for good. After some failed attempts, Don Jaime feels defeated and takes drastic measures. That’s when his son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) appears, and Viridiana, who’s lost much of her innocence, sees her life take a 180° turn.
Buñuel was everything but shy at including all sorts of symbolisms in Viridiana. The film was very controversial back when it was made, and even banned in its country of origin (Spain) for a while, because of its obvious criticism of Catholicism. Fascinating as it is, one must admit that the movie went too far in this aspect, and handled its criticism in a sort of exploitative way, anything but subtle.
I was immersed by the story (by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro) and intrigued by the risks it was willing to take, especially the one where it seems that one movie has ended and another has begun. This makes it seem episodic, but not quite: everything is connected, and the morale, if not too clear throughout, is very potent. This is a film about ungratefulness, abuse, dark sides, and distrustful appearances. As mentioned, Buñuel portrays these illnesses of the human nature through subtle or direct attacks on the Catholic Church, but he’s careful not to make a big joke out of the piece. Even the religious values are crushed by some of the characters, which appears to be a message against the people who manipulate religion more than against religion itself. Whichever the case, sometimes it feels more like a personal obsession of the filmmaker than a raison d’être of his film.
Much of the running time, Viridiana is a dramatic piece of a few characters. There’s Viridiana, Don Jaime, his servant Ramona, Jorge, and a few more. However, from a point on, several characters are introduced, all of which are dead-on in their portrayal, and played by magnificent actors whose ensemble is heaven-sent (no blasphemy intended). I loved each and every one of the scenes starring these people, especially one that imitates/mocks Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper,” and I’m not talking about that shot only, but the whole sequence surrounding it. How could they put so much irreverence in a single sequence? It’s unbelievable, irresistible, and what’s worse: it rings true.
The ending is deliciously cynical and wickedly low-key. I hear Buñuel was forbidden by investors to make it like he wanted to, but later he appreciated this since the final scene says so much through so little. It’s true. At first I didn’t know what to make of it, but now I’m completely awed by how it was handled. It was just the perfect ending for a film that lacks some subtlety throughout.
Not much to complain about though. As expected from this master director, every aspect is top-notch, and there are so many layers to discover, it can keep a movie buff busy for quite a while.
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