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


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.


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