Viridiana (1961)

There is always one young child like Luis Bunuel in every Sunday school class, a child who acts mischievous and pulls pranks on their religious teachers. They aren't necessarily a bad child, they just enjoy pointing out the absurdities in the most serious of subject matters. Right in the opening title shots of Bunuel's greatest masterpiece Viridiana, you hear Handel's classic 'Messiah', and you automatically know this isn't going to be a religious picture. Luis Bunuel is one of the most brilliant and cynical directors of all time, a man full of sexual fetishes, surreal and mistaken identities, and absurdities of normal situations taken into a different context. He also had a streak of pessimism and nihilism, presenting the cruel, bleak and destructive views of human existence. And yet his films are never bitter, angry or lacking charm. First and foremost Bunuel was a satirist and was a master at black comedy; it was just the topics he chose to satirize didn't go over very well with the public. His greatest film Viridiana is not anti-Catholic nor against religion, but it told a scandalous story about a virtuous nun, her rich perverted uncle and a hansom young lustful son, and included a bleak and pessimistic ending that involved the nun leaving the convent, and quietly entering the bedroom of her cousin and another women; which suggested a ménage-a-trois. In one of the funniest and shocking moments of the film, homeless beggars explore the insides of a wealthy estate, admiring the portraits, the linen, the expensive silverware, and eventually decide to have a feast. In a wonderfully wicked cut, Buñuel moves straight from an early moment of this exploration to a later stage of the banquet in which the main course is over, where they're empty wine bottles scattered everywhere, and most of the beggars are already drunk. One of the small babies of the beggars cries, two women have an appalling fight, a leper puts on the phonograph of a recording of Handel’s “Halle­lujah Chorus” to which he himself dances to while wearing the corset and veil of a dead bride. Others join in the dance, everyone gets drunker, one of the men sexually assaults one of the women behind the sofa in front of her own child. A blind man gets jealous, because the woman in question is the one he regards as his, smashing everything on the table. 

And in one of the most iconic moments in the cinema, everyone drunkenly lines up along one side of the table for a photograph (in which the photographer instead lifts up her dress to flash her audience) as this sequence closely resembles Leonardo da ­Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper. When originally released the film caused a tremendous stir within the Catholic world, starting with the Vatican’s newspaper which was instantly up in arms with the film, describing it as "blasphemous". The Spanish government who had initially approved the film’s submission at Cannes (although virtually no one in Spain had seen it) suddenly banned the film; and it wasn't shown in Spain until 1977. Luis Buñuel shot Viridiana in the early months of 1961, in his native Spain, and it was the first film he had made since his departure for the United States and Mexico in 1939. Many of Bunuel's admirers wondered why he would return to Spain at a time when the fascist dictator Franco was still in power. He told various stories, one was that he was offered four times his salary by a producer, and another was that he felt nostalgia for his homeland. A third that he didn't mention, I suspect, was to make this particular film.

 

PLOT/NOTES

Handel’s “Messiah,” plays during the opening credits as the next shot shows a church and a young novice named Viridinia played by the beautiful Sylvia Banala who is about to take her vows but is suddenly called in to see her mother superior. She is told that her uncle, Don Jaime can't come to see her take her vows but has invited her to see him. She is uncertain of wanting to visit him since she doesn't know him very well. Since he is her only living relative and the one that is paying for her schooling she accepts after her mother superior orders her into going.

Don Jaime is a private man, living on a neglected farm with only a few servants that help him, one named Ramona, and Ramona's young daughter Rita who is first seen jumping rope on his property. When Don Jaime's niece arrives he is astonished by her beauty and her strong resemblance to his dead wife. After spending a few days with her uncle, Viridinia tells him she was ordered to come. He asks her, "I mean so little to you that you had to be ordered?" She says, "Frankly yes. I'm not a good liar. I respect you and I'm grateful for your material support. But other than that..." Don Jaime smiles and tells her she walks like her aunt and her voice sounds like her as well. One day on his property she bluntly asks him about his son Jorge and that he shouldn't have abandoned him years ago. Don Jaime says, "But what do you know of life. You can't understand."

That night Don Jaime watches Viridinia sleep-walk and walk into his room and spread ashes on his bed; and the next morning Viridinia apologizes for that. Don Jaime asks his maid Ramona if she can talk to Viridinia and ask her to stay a few more days but Viridinia declines saying she has to head back to the convent. The night before Viridinia is to leave Don Jaime asks her a strange and odd request.  He says, "I'd like to ask an innocent favor that means a lot to me. It's hard to even ask you." But grateful for her uncle's longtime financial support, Viridinia agrees with it. The request is to put on his wife's wedding dress and when she walks out Don Jaime says, "what a strange girl you are! At first you seemed offended and said no. Now suddenly you make me the happiest man in the world. Thank you my child."

As uncomfortable as Viridinia already is; it gets worse when her uncle says he wants to marry her. Ramona then comes out and tells her he loves her and he's a good man. Viridinia is disgusted by his request and says "you can't be in your right mind. I've been so happy here, and now you've spoiled it all." Embarrassed, her uncle quickly asks her to forgive him and offers her something to drink. However, he has Ramona secretly drug her drink and after a few sips Viridinia passes out. He carries the unconscious Viridinia to her room with the intention of raping her, but at the last moment realizes he can't go through with it.

When the next morning arrives, Don Jaime lies and tells Viridinia that he took her virginity, and therefore she cannot go back to her convent; and must stay there with him. When she gets hysterical and starts to leave, he then confesses he lied, leaving her uncertain about what really happened the night before. After leaving her uncle's and waiting for the bus to take her back to the Convent, authorities confront her and inform her that her uncle hung himself on his land and left a note leaving all his property to Viridinia and his illegitimate son, Jorge. Deeply disturbed, Viridinia decides not to return to the convent, partly because she believes she is no longer a virgin, and that she can also use her religious teachings for a better use with the money and land her Uncle had left for her.

She quits the convent and starts to invite homeless people and beggars to live in an outbuilding on her uncle's land for food and shelter with her, Ramona and her daughter Rita. She devotes herself to the moral education of the low-class and tries her best to make them happy. The beggars are a fabulous crew: an imposing blind man, a scurrying clown, a woman with two small children, a pregnant woman, a lame man, a singer, a dwarf, and a leper.

When Jorge moves into his father's house with his girlfriend, Lucia, and starts renovating the rundown place he can't believe why Viridinia let a bunch of homeless beggars live off his father's land. Viridinia announces to the beggars when arriving, "Men and women will sleep in separate dormitories, but we'll eat together. Tomorrow we'll find you some better clothes." Jorge is a very handsome but vain man and when he first sees Viridinia he is quickly attracted to her, and Lucia senses that as well.

When he complains to Lucia about Viridinia; Lucia says, "know what I think? You're annoyed because she takes no notice of you." Jorge also likes Viridinia because she is a challenge to him because of her strong Catholic beliefs; which makes it all the more intriguing for Jorge. Ramona is very attracted to the hansom Jorge and one day while serving him food she is gazing at him and accidentally drops a bowl. Jorge senses her attraction to him and playfully makes flirtatious passes at her for fun.

Already within the first few hours on the property the beggars are being confrontational with each other by arguing and fighting. During the first night of their dinner; Viridinia comes in to ask the beggars how the food is. She then announces, "now for the good news. Starting tomorrow, everyone will have to work. Don't worry. It will all be according to your interests and abilities."  When one of the beggars looks to have some sort of skin disease everyone becomes hysterical and tells her to kick him out. She takes a look at his arm and says "I don't think it's leprosy. Care for him like a sick brother. Be compassionate. Now finish your meal and then off to bed."

Of course right when she leaves the beggars attack the man with a knife and threaten him to leave and sleep outside shouting, "get that trash out of here!" You also notice the one of the beggars is having a secret affair with the woman with the two kids as they always fool around when her blind husbands not around.

That night while praying Jorge comes into Viridinia's room and tries to make a pass at her. He first talks about renovations they have to do on the land and then he says, "its ridiculous for us to live so close together and yet know nothing about each other. How can you live like this and spend all this time alone?" Viridinia escorts him out of her room and tells him to knock the next time he wants to speak with her. The next day she has the beggars do work on the property and creates projects like painting pictures and going into town to pick up food and supplies. Jorge later confronts Viridinia on why he it annoys him that she's helping these homeless beggars.

"You won't do much with these people. Those days have gone. You should let me kick them all out."

"They annoy you that much?"

"Frankly, yes. Especially for your sake. Helping a few beggars does nothing for the thousands of others."

"I'm well aware how little I can do. I'd like to create a shelter with your consent, where they can find a roof, some food and a little human warmth."

"Will that be your life's work?"

"I'm not sure. I'm only now recovering from a recent shock. I may return to the convent one day."

The one beggar with the supposed leprosy has a can tied to his leg so the rest of the beggars can hear when he is coming. Viridinia comforts him and unties the rope with the can while the others still bully and threaten him.

That evening Lucia argues with Jorge and wants to leave his father's estate. She knows Jorge's attraction to Viridinia and doesn't like it. The next day while Jorge has construction workers working on the property Viridinia goes off out on the land with the beggars and has them all kneel in prayer. The scene cuts back and forth from the reconstruction of the estate to her and the beggars all praying.

Later on Jorge walks up to Viridinia and reminds her they both have to see the lawyer the next day. He then tells her Lucia left that morning and when Viridinia asks him why he replies, "Why does a man leave a woman? If you don't know I won't explain. A pious woman like you with no blood in her veins might be shocked." Later on that evening Ramona is up in the attic with Jorge while he's browsing through his fathers things. He then notices her gazing at him once again and he asks, "Whats the matter woman? Why are you staring at me like that? You know...Ramona if you fixed yourself up a bit, you could even be pretty." He then kisses her and the camera pans away to a cat pouncing on a mouse suggesting they probably became intimate.

That morning Viridinia, Ramona, Rita and Jorge all leave to see the lawyer. Viridinia tells two of the beggars, "I leave them in your trusted care. See that they behave." While Viridinia and the rest of the crew are away some of the beggars start complaining about one of the beggar's crying babies being a nuisance. "Should I kill them?" asks one of the beggars. "With their future, they'd be better of dead." Things start out small when a few of the beggars somehow get into the estate. At first they go in innocently just to look around. There amazed by all the rich furniture and paintings. They then start going through the drawers and pull out the table clothes and silverware. In the next shot you see them sitting at the large dinner table drinking wine and eating food. Eventually the rest of the beggars know their in there and start banging on the door to let them it.

The night eventually leads to a drunken riotous party as the rest of the beggars come in to join the fun; blasting loud music and all of them causing a mess. It's a pretty disgusting party as one woman's baby is crying on the couch and another woman picks up the baby and tells the baby to shut up. Eventually the mother of that baby gets into a physical fight with that women while they start punching and pulling each other's hair. There is even a disturbing scene where the one women with the two kids has sex with the a man behind the sofa; and in that very same shot of them making love is one of her baby's crying helplessly on the very same sofa next to her. Jealous, the blind man knowing his wife is with another man; starts smashing everything on the table with his stick, and eventually the place gets destroyed.

Viridinia and the rest of the group return back earlier than expected to find the house completely trashed and Ramona tries to get all the people out of the house as soon as possible. Some of the beggars who are now drunk respond by getting violent and one even pulls a knife out on Jorge and another knocks him out from behind. When Viridinia walks in two men grab her and are on the verge of trying to rape her. What's disturbing about this scene is that one of the two men watching her on the verge of getting raped was the man with leprosy; who Viridinia helped and stuck up for throughout the movie. "I might get a turn when he's done," he tells Jorge who they now tied up. Viridinia resists the man long enough for Jorge to bribe the leprosy beggar into killing the assaulting man who is attacking Viridinia. Jorge tells him, "help me and I'll make you a rich man." The beggar agrees and bashes the rapist over the head multiple times possibly killing him.

After the alleged rape Viridinia is now a different woman. After all the homeless people are now taken off the land and several even arrested; Viridinia feels like a failed woman of God. Down and out on her passion to want to help the less fortunate, she seems to have given up; letting her hair down and feeling ashamed.

That very same night Viridinia decides to knocks on Jorge's bedroom door for the first time. When he opens he asks her whats wrong and if there is anything he can do. She looks up at him and he smiles and says, "come in." She finds him in their with Ramona with some pop music playing. He then invites Viridinia to join them for cards and while he helps her slowly cut the cards; Jorge says, "you know, the first time I saw you, I thought, my cousin and I will end up shuffling the deck together."

 

ANALYZE

Luis Buñuel shot Viridiana in the early months of 1961, in his native Spain. It was the first film he had made there since his departure for the United States and Mexico in 1939, and he was much criticized for embarking on this return at a time when the fascist dictator Francisco Franco still ruled. How could Buñuel, the protester, the loyalist, and the long-term exile, work in the enemy’s country, even if that country was also his own? But he clearly had his reasons.

A contemporary cartoon that circulated widely showed him, in its first frame, arriving in Spain to be greeted by a beaming Franco. In the background a man is protesting loudly. In the second frame, ­Buñuel hands over to Franco a box wrapped with a broad, fancy ribbon. The man in the background continues to protest. In the third and last frame, the box has exploded in Franco’s face, and Buñuel is leaving. The protester is speechless. This is pretty much what happened, ­although the director did say in his autobiography that Franco himself reportedly didn’t especially object to the film. Buñuel added wryly, “To tell the truth, after all he had seen, the film must have seemed very inno­cent to him.”

Viridiana marked an important moment in Buñuel’s career, his return not only to Spain but to international fame and filmmaking. The bare facts of his life tell an interesting tale: of how a Spanish director with an interest in French surrealism became a Mexican director who shot six of his last eight films in France. Buñuel was born near Zaragoza, in 1900, studied in Madrid, achieved early renown with the Salvador Dalí collaborations Un chien andalou (1928) and L’âge d’or (1930), and left his country for the United States during the Spanish Civil War. In 1946 he moved to Mexico, and in 1949 he became a Mexican citizen. He made some great films in Mexico—notably, Los olvidados (1951), Él (1952), and The Exterminating Angel (1962)—but prior to the splash made by Viridiana, they were not well-known to the world at large.

Viridiana, whatever Franco’s personal opinion, did cause a tremendous stir. It won the Palme d’or at Cannes (with Henri Colpi’s Une aussi longue absence), and the Catholic world, starting with the Vatican’s newspaper, L’osservatore Romano, was instantly up in arms. The Spanish government, having initially approved the film’s submission at Cannes—although virtually no one in Spain had seen it—now sacked the official responsible for this move and banned the film; it wasn’t shown in Spain until 1977. Meanwhile, it had acquired Mexican nationality, like its director, and a vast reputation. Asked if his intention was to blaspheme, Buñuel said, with characteristic offhand wit, “I didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am.”

Buñuel didn’t set out to be blasphemous in Viridiana, and when people asked him about certain unforgettable objects or moments in the film, like the scene with the dogs tied to a moving cart by a rope that will strangle them if they stop trotting, or the small crucifix that opens to become a knife, he would simply say they were part of Spain, that he hadn’t made them up. True enough, of course, but he chose them for his film and made them into signs rather than random instances of every­day life. Even his fictional character in these scenes, presumably as Spanish as anyone, is surprised. He buys a dog to redeem it from its trotting torment, but he fails to see, as he turns away, another cart and another dog coming along in the opposite direction. This is the man who is about to criticize Viridiana for her attempts at charity. And when the same man discovers that the crucifix is also a knife, he says, “What an idea! Where could my father have found this?”

No blasphemy, then, but a merciless look at a world that cannot be saved. The film is divided very clearly into two parts: the story of an elderly man’s hopeless love and suicide, and his near violation of a young woman; and that of the young woman’s attempt to rescue a small portion of the world’s unfortunates. There is desperation in the first part and grimly comic failure in the second, but the overall effect is more spirited than that sounds—because of the endless, irreverent life in the filmmaking itself, and because of Buñuel’s commitment to the possibility of change, even when it seems impossible.

The first act of the film shows Viridiana, a young woman who is about to become a nun, returning to her uncle’s country estate for a last visit. He, Don Jaime, is enormously taken with his niece, who much resembles his dead wife. He makes a fetish of his wife’s wedding clothes—white satin shoes, veil, long dress, corset—and finally persuades Viridiana, as a special favor, to dress up as her dead aunt. He drugs her, plans to rape her, but he can’t bring himself to do it. And then, in a tormented attempt at blackmail, he tells her he did rape her, only to confess the truth soon afterward. “Te ofendí solo con el pensamiento,” he says—literally, “I offended you only in thought.” She refuses his plea for forgiveness. The words offense and forgiveness echo throughout this part of the film and are clearly its central preoccupation. Two well-intentioned people, ill-equipped for life—the man because he is timid and solitary and frustrated, the woman because she is inexperienced and self-punishingly religious—both offend in their different ways and cannot find, or no longer seek, forgiveness. Don Jaime, a curious, satisfied smile on his face in the last full shot we see of him, writes a few last instructions and hangs himself. Viridiana, in a revealing self-contradiction, says both that she feels responsible for his death and that there is nothing she need reproach herself for. She means, on the one hand, that her uncle would not have died if she had behaved differently, and on the other, that her virtue is intact. One can feel guilty, Buñuel is saying, and even be guilty, without incur­ring guilt in any technical or formal sense.

The second part of the film concerns Viridiana’s attempt to do something about her guilt, and critically explores Buñuel’s commitment to change. She gathers a group of local beggars and brings them to live on the estate. Her idea is to give them shelter, clothing, and health, and to get them to work a little. And most importantly, perhaps, to provide for them, as she says, “a little human warmth,” “un poco de calor humano”—precisely what was lacking in her responses to the tortured Don Jaime. Her project is mocked both by her Mother Superior and by Don Jaime’s illegitimate, and until now neglected, son, Jorge, who has inherited the property, but there is no reason to suppose that ­Buñuel thinks her idea is inherently foolish or wrongheaded—or at least any more wrongheaded than wanting to rescue a dog from suffering if you get the chance. People make mistakes all the time in Buñuel’s films, but they are mistakes he understands and even respects.

The beggars are a fabulous crew: an imposing blind man, a scurrying clown, a woman with two small children, a pregnant woman, a lame man, a distinguished-looking old fellow from another kind of movie, a stern-looking lady from the same place, a singer, a dwarf, and a leper. Rumors surrounding the film made much of the claim that these beggars were not actors but the real thing, recruited on the outskirts of Madrid. Buñuel at times insisted that they were all actors, but there could be some truth to both stories, and at least one of the beggars, actor or not, certainly lived on the fringes of Spanish society. But the effect here is not primarily that of realism. The beggars represent a set of human possibilities that Buñuel wishes neither to deny nor to celebrate, but to confront, and this is why the film, in spite of the horror of many of its moments and the destructive anarchy of its later scenes, is exhilarating rather than merely bleak or depressing. What we are looking at is both terrible and comic, and we are the better for not having turned our gaze away. As the English critic David Robinson has written, “Other men might be affected to pity by this picture of rot and corruption. But for Buñuel, pity implies resignation, and resignation defeat.”

Left with the estate to themselves for a day, the beggars explore the main house, look at the portraits and the linen and the silver, and decide to have a feast. In a wonderfully wicked cut, Buñuel moves straight from an early moment of this exploration—two women are admiring a fine French tablecloth—to a late stage of the banquet: the main course over, bottles everywhere, and most of the company drunk. One of the small children cries, two women have an appalling fight, the leper puts on the phonograph a recording of Handel’s “Halle­lujah Chorus,” to which he himself dances, wearing the corset and veil of Don Jaime’s dead bride. Others join in the dance, everyone gets drunker, one of the men assaults one of the women behind the sofa. Jealous, because the woman in question is the one he regards as his, the imposing blind man smashes everything on the table with his stick. The screenplay, perhaps evoking the feeling rather than the fact, speaks of “carnage” and of an “absurd orgy.” In the film’s most famous moment, everyone lines up along one side of the table for a “photograph” of a scene that closely mimes that of Leonardo da ­Vinci’s The Last Supper. It is just possible that Buñuel knew more about blasphemy than the pope did after all.

But the blasphemy is not against Christ and the Father. It is against the belief in progress—or at least the conventional sense of it—whether in the form of Jorge’s plans for improving the estate or of Viridiana’s project for improving the beggars’ lives. The beggars are not evil or the dark side of virtue. They are the unruliness of life itself, a reminder that pleasure and curiosity and appetite can always turn to destruction and violence. This is not an argument against pleasure and curiosity and appetite, or an appeal for law and order. It is a picture of a society that doesn’t understand its own needs. Buñuel’s skepticism and his sense of outrage concern the smallness of our vision of progress, our narrow attempts to achieve it through rational or moralistic planning, and our anxious disregard of the disruptive forces without which no society would be human.

-Michael Wood

Luis Bunuel is one of the greatest of all directors and I cannot think of another director besides Bergman, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Ford, Godard, Wilder, Kubrick and Fellini that created so many masterpieces on so many levels and had their own personal style imprinted on them. Saying Viridiana is Bunuel's best film can be a tough argument to make, but surely its mine. After the film was completed and sent by the Spanish cinematographic authority to the Cannes Film Festival and awarded; the government of Francisco Franco tried unsuccessfully to have the film withdrawn and banned its release in Spain.

The official newspaper of the Vatican, described the film as "blasphemous," and when Buñuel was asked about several of the shocking moments in the film he would simply say that they were only a part of Spain, and that he didn't make any of it up. And yet these moments in the film are clearly there to poke fun at the absurdities of religion, I just tend to agree with Bunuel's outlook on them. Take for instance the scene when Jorge discovers his deceased father's small crucifix which transforms into a knife, with Jorge saying, "What an idea! Where could my father have found this?" There is the moment when Viridiana is asked to milk a cow for the first time, which obviously is a sexual reference of a virgin stroking a penis.

In one of the funniest and shocking moments of the film, homeless beggars explore the insides of a wealthy estate, admiring the portraits, the linen, the expensive silverware, and eventually decide to have a feast. In a wonderfully wicked cut, Buñuel moves straight from an early moment of this exploration to a later stage of the banquet in which the main course is over, where they're empty wine bottles scattered everywhere, and most of the beggars are already drunk. One of the small babies of the beggars cries, two women have an appalling fight, a leper puts on the phonograph of a recording of Handel’s “Halle­lujah Chorus” to which he himself dances, wearing the corset and veil of Don Jaime's dead bride. (An interested contrast on the symbolic nature of the corset and its reasons of it being worn in the first have of the film.) Others join in the dance, everyone gets drunker, one of the men sexually assaults one of the women behind the sofa in front of her own child. A blind man gets jealous, because the woman in question is the one he regards as his, smashing everything on the table. And in one of the most iconic moments in the cinema, everyone drunkenly lines up along one side of the table for a photograph (in which the photographer instead lifts up her dress to flash her audience) as this sequence closely resembles Leonardo da ­Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper.

And then you have the inevitable ending where its suggested that the nun eventually gives up her religious beliefs and includes herself in a ménage-a-trois with Jorge and Ramona. The Spanish board of censors rejected the original ending of the film, which depicted Viridiana entering her cousin's room alone and slowly closing the door behind her. So Bunuel was ordered to write a new ending which ironically turned out to be more suggestive and racy than the first one, since it now implied a ménage à trois between Ramona, Jorge, and Viridinia, with Bunuel stating was, "Even more immoral."

Bunuel's early short films like the 16-minute short film, Un Chien Andalou with Salvaldor Dalí were groundbreaking because they featured a series of startling images of a Freudian nature most iconically a cow's eye being slashed open with a razor. Than came L' Age d' Or which also featured shocking images and was read to be an attack on Catholicism, and thus, added an even larger scandal than Un Chien Andalou. The right-wing press criticized the film and the police placed a ban on it that lasted 50 years. His early films were so groundbreaking and shocking that it actually started a genre known as the surrealism movement, which now is a film style most commonly used by such filmmakers as David Lynch.

In exile after the Spanish Civil War Luis Bunuel traveled to Mexico, and during that period made some of his most important work yet like Los Olvidados which was about a group of juvenile delinquents living a crime-filled life in the slums of Mexico City, Nazarin which involves a priest trying to live a pure life even though other's wont let him and The Exterminating Angel which is a farce on a bunch of upper-class guests who go to a dinner party but for some inexplicable reason cannot leave. After moving back to Europe Bunuel made Bella De Jour, a masterpiece about an unhappy bourgeoisie housewife who turns to prostitution to fulfill her sexual desires. Luis Bunuel continued making classics to the very end of his career with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie a surreal story on six bourgeoisie guests who are consistently interrupted when attempting to have a meal together. And last but not least you have The Obscure Object of Desire; a surreal film that has two separate actresses switching off by playing the same character.

Luis Bunuel has always been a cynical but playful director and most of his films have always created controversy because of his topics that he chooses to satirize. But the one that stood that gotten the most controversy was Viridiana, his greatest film alongside Bella De Jour and Discreet Charm of the BourgeoisieViridiana is not anti-Catholic nor against religion, but it told a scandalous story about a virtuous nun, her rich perverted uncle and hansom young lustful son, in a dark story that ended with the nun leaving the convent, and quietly entering the bedroom of her cousin and another women which many believed lead to a ménage-a-trois.  Yet Bunuel was a creative genius, a man who poked fun at all the stuff we wanted to do as kids but were afraid to. He was anything but a sentimentalist especially when it came to touchy subjects like organized religion so when returning to Spain to film the movie Viridiana it wasn't surprising this film wasn't going to be the type of film the church was going to welcome with open arms.

Like all the great artists Bunuel uses the same similar themes over and over throughout his work, just placing them in a different context. You have the virtuous but disgraced blond of Belle de Jour who mirrors the character of Viridiana, the slight mocking of Christianity, most obviously in Viridiana and with the bishop whose fetish is pretending to be a gardener in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. You have the poor unfortunate beggars in Viridiana which seem to be a mirror of the poverty stricken beggars in Bunuel's mockumentary A Land Without Bread. And than you have Bunuel's fetishes of shoes, that seem to repeated several times in his work, for instance Ramona's young daughter skipping rope in the beginning of Viridiana, or Catherine Deneuve's feet being dragged through the forest before being raped and pelted by mud in Bella de Jour. Bunuel finds eroticism and fetishes humorous, and I'm not denying it isn't sick, you just can't deny that it isn't funny.

Luis Bunuel was known to have life long fetishes and one of them for some reason was the act and tradition of sitting down for dinner. In The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel presents a bunch of Bourgeois guests who go to a house for dinner and for some unexplained reason; cannot leave the guest room and end up staying for several weeks. In The Phantom of Liberty he changes the social customs of eating and using the bathroom; for instance it's appropriate to sit at the dinner table and use the toilet to defecate but when hungry you must excuse yourself from the table and eat your food privately in the rest room because it is considered a shameful act. And last but not least Viridinia, in which he has a group of homeless beggars break into a house and trash it by getting drunk and eating the occupants food as Bunuel purposely makes the scene look like an exact image of the portrait of Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.'

Viridiana is interestingly divided into two different parts: The first story is of an elderly man’s hopeless love, the near rape of his young niece; and his unfortunate suicide, but not before willing his property over to her. The second part is Viridiana's attempt to rescue a small portion of the world’s suffering and less unfortunate. By doing so Viridiana decides to gather up 13 of the most wretched beggars in the town which involve a drunk, a crippled man, a angry dwarf, a prostitute, a pregnant woman with a small child, and a leper (who says his sores are only ulcers). Viridiana takes them in, feeds them, clothes them, and gives them shelter on her uncles land. This does not redeem any of them, as they quarrel, bicker, fight, and cast out the leper, in one instance even tie a string with a tin can to the lepers ankle, so they can hear when he is near their vicinity. Jorge of course wants to kick these beggars off his father's land, and can't understand Virdiana's grateful intentions saying to her, "Helping a few beggars does nothing for the thousands of others." Unfortunately Jorge's words are hypocritical, as he tries to do the same thing, except on a much lesser scale. There is a sequence later in the film where Jorge observes a dog tied to the rear axle of a cart, and being pulled along the road on a rope. He feels the need to want to help the poor dog, and so he stops the peasant, and buys the dog to free it. Yet he doesn't notice another dog tied to another cart, going in the other direction.

I don't really think Virdiana is anti-Catholic or anti religious for that matter, and non of the character's are truly bad, just tragic and human. All the nun's involved in the clergy seem like good, honest believers of God and even Viridiana is a virtuous women who truly tries her best to help the unfortunate, repeatedly fighting off Jorge's lustful intentions. Don Jaime is not really a bad man, just a sad, lonely and highly unstable individual who lacks decency. Jorge, like his father is also a sad man who believes his good looks will bring him the happiness he thinks he deserves. He interest in Viridiana is only because of her sexual purity and because she provokes a challenge for him. (Which mirrors the character of Henri, the husband's best friend in Bella de Jour, who only wants Catherine because of the purity he believes she has.)

Ramona is a frail, lonely and vulnerable woman, who was highly devoted to Don Jaime, and is sexually attracted to Jorge. Jorge of course knows this and easily takes advantage of her, which causes his current girlfriend Lucia to angrily leave, because she can only put up with so much. And than you have the beggars, who are colorful and highly comic characters (more tragically comedic than actually funny). Their improper and downright violent behavior is understandable, since it was unfortunately how they were brought up in this harsh and unfair world. Even if this film isn't blasphemy, Bunuel still portrays a cruel merciless image of a hopeless world that cannot be saved, but isn't that the case with almost everything?

So what exactly is Luis Bunuel really trying to say with Viridiana? What exactly was he trying to say with his surrealistic abstract silent Un Chien Andalou, or any artist who creates something for that matter? I think there's a shot in Viridiana that is probably the best explanation we are going to get. It is the sequence I mentioned earlier that involves Jorge observing a dog tied to the rear axle of a cart, and being pulled along the road on a rope. He stops to free the dog by paying the peasant. And yet he doesn't notice another dog tied to another cart, going in the other direction. This sequence sums of exactly Buñuel's outlook on the world. Why are see so keen on trying to save the world when all we get in the end are more people in the world that need saving? Later in the film the beggars break into the home while Virdiana and Jorge are out, drink their wine, eat their food, and trash their furniture and belongings. When Virdiana and Jorge arrive home earlier than expected two of the beggars physically attack Jorge and than attempt to rape Viridiana. (One of the attempted rapists is the leper, which is highly ironic since Viridiana was the only person throughout the film that showed him any form of compassion and kindness.) Is what Bunuel saying is wrong? Are the poor and unfortunate simply a lost cause who are naturally prone to steal, rape and inflict violence? I don't know. When watching the film I understood the images Bunuel was expressing on the screen. I see the naivety in Viridiana's character and as much as I wanted things to work out for her, I knew Bunuel wasn't going to allow it. When Viridiana was first released there were rumors surrounding the authenticity of the beggars portrayed in the film, and if Bunuel used real beggars recruited on the outskirts of Madrid, or real actors. Bunuel at times insisted they were all actors and not the real thing, but there could be some truth to both stories, and at least one of the beggars, actor or not, certainly lived on the fringes of Spanish society. The inevitable ending is really quite tragic because Virdiana comes to the realization that she is a failure. She ultimately decides to give up her religious beliefs and accepts an invitation inside Jorge's bedroom with Ramona, for what many believe will lead to a ménage-a trois. (She already was given the belief that her virginity and purity was taken from her earlier by her uncle Don Jaime, which probably doesn't help the situation.) I, like Bunuel am an Atheist, and so both of are bleak worldly viewpoints, our pessimistic perceptions on the cruel views of human existence, and our nihilistic thoughts on organized religion, are probably slightly similar. Viridiana is Bunuel's greatest achievement and it is on my top 10 films of all time. The film was finally released in Spain in 1977 when Bunuel was seventy-seven years old, after it was banned for over 15 years. Bunuel when once asked about that he stated, "I didn't deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am".

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