Day 275: Viridiana 1961

Day 275

Saturday 31 March 2018   0329

Viridiana    1961

A Luis Buñuel Film

It’s very interesting – because my brain likes to accept lists of things and to examine and analyze them – that Buñuel has a few films that received multiple votes in the 2012 BFI Poll of Directors and Critics; and that Directors voted three Bunuel films into the Top 100: #37 Viridiana (1961), #75 Los Olvidados (1950) [tied with 16-films including Hidden (2004), The Seventh Seal (1957), M (1931), Battleship Potemkin (1925), The General (1927), Jaws (1975) and The Shining (1980), amongst others] and #91 Le chien andalou (1928).

15 votes by directors tied Viridiana for positions 37 through 43, along with A Man Escaped (1956), Close-Up (1990), Playtime (1967), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927), Some Like It Hot (1959) and La Dolce Vita (1960). Next tied for #44, were Leone’s extraordinary western Once Upon a Time in the West, Godard’s take on Hollywood filmmaking in Europe Le Mepris, Billy Wilder’s comedy The Apartment and Bergman’s horror film Hour of the Wolf

There were just four films ranked higher than Viridiana by the directors polled: #26 La strada (1952), #30 (three films tied – Amarcord (1974), Gospel According to St. Matthew (1966) and Come and See (1985) and then #37 (tied with seven films) of which Viridiana was the only one of the seven to be alone on the Directors list.

Time Out chose two Bunuel films as Films to watch (the usual ones) ,.. and TIME Magazine chose one Bunuel film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Empire Magazine in their Top 100 World Movies chose two Bunuel films: Belle de jour (1967) and La chien andalou (1928).

I’ve now seen La chien andalou (1928), L’Age d’or (1930), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), That Obscure Object of My Desire (1977) and Viridiana (1961), so I have a growing understanding of where I perceive these films sit in comparison to each other. But what are the descriptions by which I compare these films, because the words (how we would metatag him) which I – and others – would use to describe his style are, frequently: iconoclast, anarchist, anti-authority, anti-Christian and surrealist. But I still have three to go: Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972), El fantasma de la libertadi (1975) and Bell de jour (1967).

Based on my memory of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie from two decades ago, it was surreal: truly bizarre and not immediately understandable. I hadn’t tried to delve into the mind or the politics or art of the mind behind the films back then.

Viridiana is the most curious of the seven Buñuel films I’ve seen because it appears to me to be by far the most serious and the least surreal. It’s a straightforward story and the peculiarities aren’t anything that’s outside of what I would could an enactment of something approximating reality. The most conventional, narratively, are this one and That Obscure Object of My Desire. But Viridian has something far more devious in Bunuel’s mind, because I think it lacks the lighthearted probing of contentious issues. It’s far more serious and doesn’t hides its seriousness behind surrealism.

It does create scenes which I think are there to counter the serious scenes, the ones with the slaves taking over the house of the Masters, briefly, but it has an undercurrent that is more sinister than even The Exterminating Angel, which is about powers which can confine people against their will through magic or the strength of their power.

L’age d’or is equally iconoclastic. It tears down barriers – artificial ones imposed by powerful beings – and mocks the actions that are seen as bad or sinful, in its attempt to shock the audience. So, too, Viridiana.

It is religious and social comment by Buñuel at its most obvious. This dissent from popular norms may be the reason is has a higher regard when compared with films by Buñuel which are better balanced in their attack upon convention.

Probably in its day, Viridiana was more shocking than now, fifty-seven years later. Even when people think back to what censorship was like in the 1950s and 60s and that even his 1930 films was banned for a few decades, it was extremism.

The nuts and bolts of the politically incorrect plot is that a nun, about to commit to her vows, is asked to pay a visit to her uncle (Rey). He likes what he see when she is out of her habit. He drugs her so he can rape her but changes his mind at the last moment. He tells her that he did take her virginity and then says that he didn’t. It leaves Viridiana confused. He hangs himself and leaves everything to her. Her confusion mounts and she accepts the legacy. She tries to live a life betweenowning up to being a Master or a Slave. This indecision, and her desire to do good for the poor, places her in the situation Christ found himself. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to make a decision and piss people off, left and right of where it is you stand. If you don’t then there’s chaos – as witnessed in all the Buñuel films I’ve seen – and everything falls apart.

Buñuel was raised within an orthodox Christian upbringing. I don’t say faith because I don’t know if he ever passed the point of accepting the information to choose to have a person faith. I suspect not, but I don’t know. What he has Viridiana, his character – with him as (God) the director and writer – do is crossover from trying to emulate Christ, to accepting that you can’t have a foot in each camp. It brings to mind the famous words where Christ says you are either for me or against me. Viridiana tried the ‘for me’ and it didn’t work. The last scene in the film shows that she has changed sides.

From a position of true belief she has been beaten down until she gives in and crosses to the other side.

These things – these plot points – the things that make people give up their faith and become the people they used to think they were trying to witness to, so Christ could change their hearts, are the dramatically sad thing about Viridiana’s life. She was attempting to be holy and pure and she was carefully and smoothly led astray, just like Buñuel. If what I have now read about his life is true, he lost his faith, or his purpose, as a young adult – maybe earlier – and spent the rest of his time trying to tear down the belief in, and the deeds of, Jesus Christ.