Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Viridiana (1961)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

To give you an idea of where I'm coming from when I talk about Viridiana, let me begin with the sultry netflix summary: "Before taking her final vows, young nun Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) visits her uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), who's supported her for years. But Jaime, fixated on his niece because of her resemblance to his late wife, sets out to corrupt her. Celebrated surrealist Luis Buñuel directs this controversial satire, which was banned by the Spanish government for obscenity and blasphemy. Viridiana won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival." Sounds awesome right? With the promise of heresy, incest, presumably sexy times, and a corrupted nun, I was looking forward to this movie. Turns out that's not at all what it's really about.

So in the beginning young nun Viridiana does indeed visit her ailing uncle and he totally lusts after her because she looks like his dead wife. But he doesn't try to seduce her, he drugs her and molests her when she falls asleep in his wife's wedding dress. Then he kills himself. This is all within the first half hour or so I think. The rest of the movie is about Viridiana helping a group of homeless people while her cousin tries to sleep with all the women in his vicinity. It's all a commentary on how shitty the Catholic Church is or something. Self-serving piety and all that.

Look, I dig Surrealism as much as the next person, despite all the sexism. Magritte is one of my favorite artists. So I think I should be more into Buñuel. I liked Un Chien Andalou because of how crazy it is, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is ok, and that's about as far as I got. I chose Viridiana because I think corrupted religious figures are always interesting, and I don't like Catholicism. Unfortunately, my completely off-base expectations coupled with Buñuel's meandering pace and narrative produced a lukewarm reaction as I viewed the film.

Part of the problem is that I didn't really understand the character of Viridiana. She's pretty, she's pious, she's confused, and she's kind of mean. I'm not sure what her motivations are for any of her actions, except taking in the local homeless since that is the kind of thing a guilt-stricken charitable person with sudden wealth might do. Everyone in this movie is unlikable, and it's ok, it happens, but I felt like there was nothing for me to hold on to. The story shifts several times so that I was never sure what the actual main plotline was, or if there even was one. I know I shouldn't hold Buñuel up to conventional standards, but because much of Viridiana is pretty straightforward with its blunt symbolism and stock characters, I continued to hold out for things that weren't there.

I liked the whole rich/poor dichotomy with the beggars and the Last Supper joke, and there is some powerful imagery in the film. The story seems like a failed quest for civility. The cast is strong, with Silvia Pinal's intense and captivating face forcing me to wonder just what forces lay behind it. Margarita Lozano stands out in the supporting role of maid Ramona- she is slightly crazed and easily dominated, and I kept expecting her to just break.

It's not that I disliked Viridiana, I guess I just expected something different. Though there are parts of it I enjoyed and appreciated, overall it felt lacking. That's cool it was banned in Spain though. Franco was such a dick, amirite?


Pair This Movie With: Mmmm not sure here. More Buñuel? I've heard Belle du Jour is good. Or The Sound of Music has a nun who goes away and lives in a fancy house, but she has a lot more fun than Viridiana!


  1. Hi Alex,
    I don't blame you for not liking this one. It's more miss than hit for me, but I haven't seen it in awhile. I would suggest checking out The Exterminating Angel and That Obscure Object of Desire, both of which are my favorite Bunuel films and a cut above The Discreet Charm....for me.

  2. Check out Bunuel's Exterminating Angel. That's kinda a fascinating concept.