Luis Buñuel – Viridiana (1961)

The film uses parallels, sometimes extravagant, sometimes excruciatingly commonplace, between Catholicism, government, and sexual relations, placed within antitheses of social legitimacy and illegitimacy, wealth and poverty, kindness and cruelty, charity and exploitation. So the scene is so large that what is disjointed can be accepted as representing a recognizable whole, wholly conventional in, and thereby able to elaborate, without judgment and condemnation, the constancy of the quilt of its aspects of society.

Silvia Pinal in Luis Buñuel's Viridiana (Courtesy: Janus Films)

Silvia Pinal in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (Courtesy: Janus Films)

It sometimes strains its artistry when the content becomes so ordinary that it is simultaneously equally unbelievable and equally expected. The lengthy use of Handel’s Messiah is more irritating than paradoxical; the staging of a drunk paupers’ Last Supper contrived; the episode of the dogs tethered to carts obvious; the suicide of the nun’s uncle an incredulity.

Yet, some scenes persist in the eye of the mind: the mother superior’s courtyard conversation with the novice as a dog strays by in the background; the crown of thorns retrieved from the nun’s suitcase; the leper; the Angelus in the fields; the small crucifix that opens into a knife; the bedroom game of cards. And the depiction of false guilt, which the novice Viridiana rationalizes, and of misplaced charity, which even the mother superior mocks, are both foolish, perhaps, but not unusual; and hence, closely understandable.

The tethered dog, in Viridiana. (Courtesy: Janus Films)

The tethered dog, in Viridiana. (Courtesy: Janus Films)

In the end, the characters are left with the almost gentle comedy of their actions in the context of the inescapable inconsistency of their convictions, reflective of a society that would disabuse itself of its difficulties, doing nothing to save those who need its help, because it refuses to acknowledge and accept that it is needed, and needs to be given.

The trailer of yesteryear exploits the balletic thunder and sunlight of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird.


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