Review: Viridiana (1961)

Director: Luis Buñuel | 91 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey, José Calvo, Margarita Lozano, José Manuel Martín, Victoria Zinny, Luis Heredia, Joaquín Roa, Lola Gaos, María Isbert, Teresa Rabal

This 1961 film by Luis Buñuel was one of the first films that the originally Spanish director was able to shoot in his homeland again. This return was unsuccessful for a long time, as “Viridiana” was immediately banned by the fascist government. As in other Buñuel films, the sacred status of the protagonist is both shown in a light of admiration, but at the same time approached with irony. While Viridiana (whose name stands for purity and sanctity) tries to impose her noble lifestyle on others with her utterly pious intentions, it also becomes painfully clear that the objects of her noble project do little good with all this goodness.

At the insistence of the Mother Superior of her monastery, the young Viridiana visits her only living relative: an uncle with whom Viridiana has little interest. She is not very receptive to his advances and would prefer to return to the monastery, something Uncle Don Jaime tries hard to prevent. In his desperation, he tries to drug and even rape his niece, but he still manages to control himself at the last minute. Immediately afterwards, Don Jaime hangs himself out of guilt, leaving his mansion to Viridiana. She, in turn, feels guilty about his death and does not dare to return to the monastery. She then decides to use her goodness by taking all the beggars and cripples from the neighborhood into the house, which proves to demand the utmost from her devotion.

The message does not seem to bode well for the Catholic world: poor Viridiana must acknowledge her loss and, despite her best efforts to live a purely noble life, yield to a sinful life. When she finally, with her hair loose, knocks on her uncle’s bastard son, Jorge, and sits down for a game of cards, it is clear which “side” has won.

The film was seen as pure blasphemy in Franco’s Spain and initially banned. Still, director Luis Buñuel managed to release his film and reach the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. The film even won the Golden Palm, and still has an enormous urgency about it today. Many a contemporary director would envy the memorable scene in which the group of beggars invade Viridiana’s home and wreak havoc, culminating in a ‘group photo’ referring to the Last Supper, culminating in nothing less than an orgy, and all this to the compelling ‘Hallelujah’ sounds from Handel’s ‘Messiah’.

Comments are closed.