Viridiana

(1961)
   While shooting Sonatas (1959) in Mexico, Juan Antonio Bardem contacted Luis Buñuel to discuss the possibility of a return to Spain to shoot a film. Bardem brought in UNINCI producer Ricardo Muñoz Suay, who also secured the support of adventurous Pere Portabella (whose company Films 59 had supported Marco Ferreri's work). Another contribution came from Mexican producer Gustavo Alatriste, who was looking for a part to launch his wife Silvia Pinal's international career. The result, Viridiana, owes its undisputed centrality in Spanish cinema to many counts. Canonically, it has a place of privilege on critics and reviewers "best" lists. It is to date the only Spanish film to have won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It was also one of the very few Spanish features by Luis Buñuel, one of only three actually shot in Spain, and it was also one of the films Buñuel felt more comfortable shooting.
   But the reasons for Viridiana' s popularity go beyond issues of quality. In a way, its passage through censorship boards, its scandalous release, and the fact that after winning the Cannes award the film was banned in its country of origin is emblematic of the problems with Spanish cinema during the Franco period, when not even the most talented directors (particularly, one might stress, the most talented directors) were able to make films. Historically, it was also a film that tightened censorship at a time when Spanish society was beginning to open up to foreign influences. Finally, it taps very deeply into specific Spanish traditions: the religious obsession, black humor, sexual undertones, and the emphasis on poverty presented in realistic, near costumbrismo imagery.
   Viridiana is a nun (Silvia Pinal) who is about to take the vows, when she is called by her wealthy uncle and tutor Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) to his big country house. During the short period she stays there, he becomes infatuated with the young woman, who reminds him of his dead wife. One night he dresses her in the latter's wedding gown, drugs her, and attempts to have sex with her. After proposing marriage and being refused he commits suicide.
   Feeling guilty about her uncle's death, Viridiana renounces her vocation and decides to stay in the house and make good by creating a hostel for the poor. She brings a group of beggars to live with her and tries to teach them Christian virtues. After Don Jaime's death, his natural son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) has also inherited the house. Although from the beginning there are signs of interest for his cousin, she resists and devotes herself almost fiercely to her charity work, trying to turn the house into a Christian community in which beggars take up work as laborers. One day, when Viridiana and Jorge leave the house, the poor take over the house, organize a party, and get drunk. When Viridiana and her cousin return, one of the beggars tries to rape Viridian, another ties her up and steals money from Jorge. Shocked, Viridiana recognizes her defeat. In Buñuel's original script, she finally let herself be seduced by Jorge. This was something that the Spanish censors would never allow. In the film, Viridiana just knocks the door of a room where Jorge and the housekeeper are play-ing cards and joins them in their game, suggesting not only a sexual liaison but an even more transgressive one.
   Although the narrative can be told straightforwardly, what makes Viridiana such a complex film is Buñuel's subtle use of imagery. A simple, everyday object like a skipping rope, first appearing as a toy, goes through a series of transformations: it becomes the rope Don Jaime uses to hang himself, later it will be used as a belt with phallic connotations by the beggars, and it will also be featured in the rape scene. One of the main accusations from the establishment was that Viridiana was "blasphemous," but this is incidental and reduced to some of the great cliches of classic Christian imagery by Buñuel: the Holy Supper and the Angelus. What is more disturbing is a disen-chanted view of Christian charity and the representation of the poor not just as meek and deserving of salvation, but as disruptive, sexually active, and unreliable.
   The censors pointed out some controversial aspects in the script, but Buñuel only accepted some of the emendations, and the film was sent to Cannes to the consequent outrage of the Vatican authorities. The Spanish government then fired the general director of cinematography and the film was declared nonexistent (legally, a decree was passed saying that it was never done). Fortunately prints existed in Paris, and Mexican producer Gustavo Alatriste released the film worldwide. Viridiana only opened in Spain in 1977, and it only regained Spanish nationality, after some legal fiddling, in 1982.
   Historical Dictionary of Spanish Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

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