The editors of the Book just love Bunuel. They seem to find something in his movies that I either miss or fail to appreciate. When his movies are best they are either far out and very tight. “Viridiana” is neither and fall into that general category where I think I see the point, but I fail to appreciate it.
It is obvious there is a point to “Viridiana”. As usual this is a critical, even mocking, movie against the church and those holier than thou. Bunuel really did not like those people and the institution and while I can sort of appreciate that sentiment, even to some extend agree with it, I cannot help thinking that without that criticism there is just very little left in this movie. It is fairly dull, depressing and one dimensional.
The central figure is Viridiana (Silvia Pinal), a novice at a monastery who has devoted her life to the faith. Viridiana is actually a beautiful woman, but she bases her life around tormenting herself. She sleeps on a hard bed and when she travels her luggage mainly consists of religious tools for self-conflagration. One day she is asked, commanded really, to go visit her uncle, a rich, older man who lives on a large, neglected estate. The uncle may first seem like a nice old man, but his motives for seeing Viridiana are… creepy. He lost his wife on their wedding day and as Viridiana looks a lot like her he wants to marry her instead.
Naturally Viridiana is creeped out and it does not help that the old dude drugs her and pretends to have had sex with her while unconscious. Something that would make it impossible for her to go back to her life as a nun. The uncle is so ashamed that he hangs himself and Viridiana is shocked even further. Presumably to make amends she gives up on being a nun and instead takes in all the scum of the neighborhood to care for them at the manor. This is how the son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) finds them when he shows up to take possession of his inheritance.
There is a reason why these people are scum, though, and they manage to completely violate her trust as they trash and trample anything of value on the manor, defiling it all in the process. This is the final straw for Viridiana, who seems to go catatonic.
The key here is of course that anything Viridiana does, in her effort to follow her religious zeal, backfires and makes her seem guilty. She indulges her uncle in his request and finds that he lusts for her. She refuses him and he hangs himself. She sacrifices herself for the poor and they do not care shit and violate her trust. All her religious motives are mocked and look wrong, dangerous and stupid.
The cynical side of me enjoys that. There is nothing better than having religious people look stupid in their self-righteousness. But there is also something incredibly sad in the destruction of Viridiana. She had invested everything in her religion and it is taken away from her. What is she without it? An empty hulk. A vessel of nothing. She means well, and so it is painful to watch. The party of the scum in the manor is funny and filmed with a wry humor, but the smile stiffens when you think of what they are doing to Viridiana. No, as much as I do not care much for religious people she did not deserve that. This is really harsh.
Take the religious mockery away and this is just the story of a nice girl falling apart in slow motion. It is not particular exciting, except for her scum-party and that is bitter sweet at that. The jury in Cannes liked it enough to give it the Palme d’Or. They must dislike those religious a lot. The church and the Franco regime did not like it much though.
And me? I think I liked “La Joven” better. This one is a little too bitter.