Viridiana

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #332: Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana.

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Viridian comes from the Latin viridis, mean­ing green, but color has lit­tle to do with Buñuel’s Viridiana. He took the name from the life of a St. Viridiana [Feb 1st], but that is tan­gen­tial to the ac­tion of the film. It is al­most eas­ier to talk about what this film isn’t than about what it is, an in­flu­ence which stems, I think, from Buñuel’s as­so­ci­a­tions with sur­re­al­ism and his own un­der­stat­edly in­ter­est­ing per­son­al­ity. I’ve seen Un chien an­dalou and Las Hurdes, but this is the first of Buñuel’s work that I’ve seen with an ob­vi­ous nar­ra­tive struc­ture. The film it­self is above av­er­age, but it be­comes more in­ter­est­ing when placed within the con­text of its pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion.

This won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was then promptly de­nounced by the Vatican, sub­se­quently banned in Spain [af­ter be­ing ap­proved by the Franco’s fas­cist cen­sors] and all kinds of other hoopla. This is a film where many things are fetishized, a lit­tle girl’s legs, the novice Viridiana’s legs, women’s cloth­ing; and other things are merely day to day tongue-in-cheek comedic mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tions, jump-rope, cloth, mu­sic and art. Above all, Viridiana is a com­edy in the old­est sense of the word. The main char­ac­ters never prac­tice what they preach, are blind to their own faults, and seem dri­ven more by in­stinct than will or rea­son. The blas­phe­mous as­pects of the film seem to me to be less blas­phe­mous and rather more con­cerned with point­ing out struc­tural in­ad­e­qua­cies in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween real life and spir­i­tual life.

Buñuel ap­pears to be mak­ing pointed com­men­taries about the land he re­turned to af­ter a 20 year ex­ile and the world that could creat fas­cist Spain. I don’t think the com­men­taries are in­ten­tional, be­cause the film is not preachy, but there are un­avoid­able re­flec­tions of Buñuel’s per­sonal world­view echo­ing through­out. His dis­taste for modes of con­trol is quite ev­i­dent in Viridiana. Viridiana her­self tries to con­trol and di­rect the wel­fare of the beg­gars that she takes in, but does more to re­strict than al­low the beg­gars room to live. Similarly Don Jaime and Don Jorge’s at­tempts to con­trol the women in their lives show the empti­ness of the men’s lives and a pos­si­ble weak­ness in the cul­ture of Spain at the time [that’s just a guess]. The con­trol cri­tique is most ob­vi­ous in the re­li­gious as­pects, and in the end it seems that the mes­sage is: Accept and revel in the messi­ness of life in­stead of try­ing to con­trol it.

Almost an an­ar­chic mes­sage and cer­tainly a sur­re­al­ist one.

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Criterion Essay by Michael Wood
• Objects of Desire: Conversations with Luis Buñuel [If you’re will­ing to drop 6 bucks to read this in­ter­view with Buñuel about Viridiana and other films]
• Senses of Cinema ar­ti­cle on Luis Buñuel and Viridiana

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