May 19, 2006
The making of Viridiana (1961) not only saw a return to Spain for filmmaker Luis Bunuel (he left in 1939 when fascism took over) but a return to international notoriety. He made some great films in Mexico, including Los olvidados (1951) and El (1952) but they failed to garner worldwide attention on the scale that Viridiana would, winning the Palme d’or at Cannes and being banned by the Vatican.
Viridiana (Pinal) is an inexperienced nun who goes to stay with her ill uncle, Don Jaime (Rey) that she barely knows before taking her vows. She has not left the convent in a long time and isn’t crazy about leaving it now but is reminded that he paid for her education. Jaime lives in an expansive, elegant mansion overrun with weeds because of his bad health. The uncle is a bit of an old fellow. We see him sitting in a room trying on one of his wife’s high heels and sizing up a corset, all from her wedding gown. He asks Viridiana to dress up in his wife’s gown as the young nun clearly reminds him of her. So much so, that he even asks her to marry him.
He drugs Viridiana and kisses her while she is unconscious. The next day she is due to go back to the convent but in order to make her stay, he lies to her, claiming that they had sex. Clearly upset, Viridiana leaves anyway and as she is about to leave town is told that her uncle has hung himself. Wracked with horrible guilt and feeling responsible for his death, she returns to the house.
Silvia Pinal is excellent as the emotionally and spiritually tortured Viridiana. Her character is a devoutly religious person and this is put to the test with her uncle’s death. To atone for her sins, she takes in several beggars and invites them to stay at the house. Some are blind or cripple and an unruly bunch that constantly quarrel with each other. They take advantage of her kindness when she leaves for the day. They get drunk and trash the house, eating all the food on the fine French linen. They even use the expensive silverware. Bunuel, in what would be the film’s most famous (or infamous) image the beggars at the dining table exactly like Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper” – only the vulgar version.
Early on, Bunuel subverts the stereotypical portrayal of nuns in movies when he shows Viridiana getting undressed for bed. She pulls off her stockings and the camera focuses on her exposed, beautiful legs as if to say that even nuns can be desired human beings. The image is then followed by her strict religious beliefs as she prays in front of a small cross, a crown of thorns, nails and a hammer – a mini-crucifixion kit in obvious memory of Jesus. Viridiana has the best of intentions but is naïve when it comes to dealing with the beggars who take advantage of her generosity in the worst way. She believes that there is good in everyone and learns a harsh lesson that this is not always true.
There is an interview with actress Silvia Pinal conducted in January 2006. She had worked on Mexican television and films before working with Bunuel. She had always wanted to work with him but didn’t have the chance until Viridiana. She talks about how the filmmaker got the idea for the film while also speaking highly of working with him and what it was like. Pinal tells some very entertaining anecdotes about filming in this engaging extra.
“Cineastes de Notre Temps” features edited excerpts from this French T.V. show that aired an episode about Bunuel in 1964. He is interviewed in this profile as are family members and past collaborators who all give their impressions of the man. This is a good look at this complex artist.
Cineaste magazine editor Richard Porton talks about Viridiana’s style, pointing out that the film helped cement Bunuel’s international reputation and fund subsequent projects. Porton says that there are no heroes or villains in the movie, just characters with contradictions. He gives examples in the film where Bunuel’s obsessions and fetishes are reflected in the characters.
Finally, there is the U.S. trailer.