May 15, 2006
Viridiana (1961)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Luis Bunuel
Stars: Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey

What it's about. A beautiful Spanish woman (Silvia Pinal) about to take her vows as a nun is ordered by her Mother Superior to visit her patron uncle (Fernando Rey). After he inevitably betrays her trust, he leaves his mansion to her and his grown illegitimate son Jorge (Francisco Rabal), a wordly opportunist. Meanwhile, Pinal plays Sister Teresa with a group of mangy beggars, who also take advantage of her.

How others will see it. This film is watchable principally as a black comedy. Laugh at Pinal's naivete, as the lecherous men and toadying beggars who surround her try to con her into support, or out of her virginity.

Be forewarned, this is a subtitled black and white movie Spanish-language film. This removes most of the audience. The cynicism that runs throughout this film will alienate a portion of what's left. Those not easily offended, or deterred by subtitles, will find a revealing and rewarding movie.

How I felt about it. The set-up for Viridiana is exaggerated, but only to drive its lessons home with greater force. The film begins with Viridiana at a convent, which she does not want to leave. But, the hatchling must learn to fly, and she is cast into the world, with her position and beauty as her major assets.

She learns the truth about men: however they may behave externally, internally it is a different story. A portion of a man's psyche wants to possess and control the beautiful woman he sees. It is nature, and it is also evil, if the impulse is not checked, or at least guided and watered down through the ritual of courtship.

Viridiana instinctively recognizes her uncle's intentions toward her, mostly because they lead to increasingly eccentric behavior. The deadline of her departure to the convent forces him to ever more drastic measures to keep her from leaving forever.

She takes a different tone (suspicious instead of afraid) with Jorge, partly because he is younger and better looking, but mostly because he has other interests as well, and has not placed a timetable on his potential conquest of her. From his point of view, if it happens, good. And he will make it possible, and even likely, for it to happen. But he will never force the matter, because that's not his style, which is to take advantage of whatever is at hand.

Director Bunuel clearly takes a dim view of religion, even satirizing Da Vinci's "The Last Supper." Religion, for Pinal, is a code of behavior rather than a set of beliefs. It devastates her when she learns that others will never obey her code of piety, even if they pretended to as long as it is in their immediate interests. The monster inside of the opportunist is masked indefinitely only by the absence of opportunity.

Viridiana, then, does not savage the poor, who in this movie are merely the means to Viridiana's resignation to the venality of life. Both Viridiana and her servant Ramona (Margarita Lozano) learn that they need the protection of worldly men, who may have carnal thoughts but know enough to keep them mostly under wraps.