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Spain 1961
Directed by
Luis Bunuel
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Made in Spain in 1960 after Franco had invited Buñuel back from exile in Mexico, Viridiana is an unapologetically misanthropic view of human nature,  

Viridiana, played by Silvia Pinal, is a religiously-devout young woman about to start her life as a nun when she is sent by her Mother Superior to visit to her uncle (Fernando Rey) who is apparently dying. Don Jaime an aging widower who lives on a crumbling estate who has had virtually no contact with Viridiana over the years but now (a matter of days) believes that she resembles his dead wife (who died in this arms of a heart attack on their wedding night!). Much to Viridiana’s horror he wants her to marry him. She refuses but he drugs her and the next day tells her that he has had his way with her overnight. He retracts his story but wracked with shame hangs himself. Viridiana inherits the estate with Don Jaime’s illegitimate son. Jorge (Francisco Rabal) and decides not to return to the convent. Instead she sets up the property as a shelter for the homeless but they prove to be less than grateful for her charity.

Both looking back to the director’s1958 Mexican film, Nazarin, which was about an idealistic country priest (played by Rabal) and his futile attempts to live a Christ-like life (both it and Viridiana were adapted from novels by Benito Pérez Galdós by the director with Julio Alejandro) and forward to the trenchantly anti-bourgeois films, notably The Exterminating Angel (1962), which characterised much of the remainder of Buñuel’s career, Viridiana is less an attack on bourgeois society as it is a excoriating dimissal of the empty pieties of Christianity.

Although Don Jaime is similar to Don Lope, the gone-to-seed aristocrat of Tristana (1970), he is not so much a sexual predator as a lonely old man who succumbs to a moment of weakness and pays dearly for it. Equally too, if Don Jaime’s son, Jorge, is a womanizer he is actually quite a sympathetic character, something summed up in a scene in which he buys a dog from a peasant to save it from maltreatment (and no sooner has he done so than another passes by in the opposite direction).

Rather, the focus is on Viridiana and her shattering awakening to the realities of the world beyond the cloistered walls of her convent. If the idea that God’s love did not make the world go round was offensive to Spain's Catholic community, the memorable scene in which the banqueting beggars are suddenly frozen into a re-enactment of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper to the strains of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, not to mention two of the beggars subsequently trying to rape Viridiana, was a slap in its face, As a result the film was banned outright in Spain and condemned by the Vatican although, unsurprisingly, it won the Palme D'Or at Cannes.

FYI: That catchy little song which is on the gramophone in the final scene as Viridiana sits down to play cards with Jorge and her former servant, his now-mistress is"Shimmy Doll' by Ashley Beaumont.




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