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Old 11th Oct 2011, 5:23   #1
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Default Viridiana (1961)

I watched Buñuel's Viridiana soon after watching his Simon of the Desert and The Exterminating Angel. Viridiana is the first of the three films, each of which stars, to one degree or another, the beautiful Sylvia Pinal, and each of which criticizes to one great degree or another great degree the Catholic Church and its influence on society. This was the first film Buñuel made after his return to his native Spain, following many years of political exile. When he returned, though, Franco was still in power. Well, Buñuel gave him the finger with this film.

Viridiana by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

Pinal plays the young Viridiana who, when the movie begins, is just a few days away from taking her vows as a nun. Apparently for some time Viridiana has been supported by her reclusive, lonely uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), and he'd like her to visit him at his estate before she takes her vows. Viridiana has met him only once, feels no loyalty, and really doesn't want to see him, but her mother superior insists; after all, this is gratitude.

Viridiana-1 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

As you can see, Don Jaime has issues. He's been lonely since his young wife died, his young wife who looks a great deal like young Viridiana. In the evening, after everyone has retired, Don Jaime pulls out his wife's wedding attire -- and, well, tries it on. He's a disturbed mind, supremely depressed and lonely. Viridiana sleep walks in on him, but that's another story.

The next day, Don Jaime, more disturbed than ever now that it feels his wife has returned, asks Viridiana to stay. She says no, but finally does give in on one of Don Jaime's strange requests for one small favor (there's that gratitude again): to dress up in the wedding attire herself. With the assistance of his servant Ramona (Margarita Lozano), Don Jaime corners Viridiana and proposes.

Viridiana-2 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

Now, for whatever reason, that just doesn't work. Viridiana is determined to take her vows despite the generous offer. In fact, she is quite shock and dismayed.

So far this post has discussed only the first 20 minutes or so of this 1 hour and 30 minute film. I had no idea what was coming, and perhaps it's best if you stop reading this and see for yourself.

I'm going to go on, however.

While Don Jaime is proclaiming his love to Viridiana, Ramona prepares a drugged drink. As planned, Viridiana falls into a deep sleep, Don Jaime takes her to bed, and the next scene is awful as we see him fight the temptation to rape her. He succeeds in not violating her, but becuase he thinks it will keep her home, when she wakes up he tells her she is no longer a virgin. She cannot possibly return to the convent now, he argues. How this would work in his favor, I don't know, and it doesn't; Viridiana is heading out. Wait, he cries, and tells her the truth:

Viridiana-3 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

As if that makes things all the better. Viridiana still leaves, gets to the bus station, and is forced to return when the police arrive to tell her Don Jaime has committed suicide. This is at the 30 minute mark, so just what is going to happen in the last hour? It's been sad so far, and now Viridiana feels guilt at the same time she is proud she did not give in. But how is this going to get so controversial?

Here's a clue:

Viridiana-4 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

And the wedding attire figures in again too:

Viridiana-5 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

Don Jaime generously leaves his estate to two people: part will go to Viridiana and part will go to his illegitimate son, Jorge (Fransisco Rabal). Jorge has showed up at the estate with a woman yet flirts openly with Viridiana. For her part, Viridiana did not feel she could return to the convent after the suicide. However, she isn't just going to live in comfort at the estate. Feeling guilty for a variety of reasons (one of which she doesn't even know if she should feel -- is she a virgin?), she has invited a troop of the poor, upon which she can cast her charity. This motley crew is pictured above at the incredibly controversial dinner shot.

Things just don't go well for Viridiana. She knows nothing of the world and cannot possibly manage her ill advised project. Under the humble surface, this group would just as soon have her throat, or some other part of her, and it all comes to a head -- and then, as the dust settles, we move to this curious final scene, which goes down in film history as one of the most provocative endings of all time.

Viridiana-6 by Mookse and Gripes, on Flickr

It's such a curious film, banned in Spain (until 1977), denounced by the Vatican (probably still). It is, in the words of a member of another forum, nine months' pregnant with symbolism. I founs that, agree with it or not, it was a visual feast, fun to pick apart, great to behold.
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