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Viridiana
cast: Fernando Rey, Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, and Margarita Lozano

director: Luis Bunuel

87 minutes (15) 1961
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
What establishes Bunuel as a great director is the consistency of his vision; he was recognised to be as much a part of the surrealist movement as the great friend of his youth, Salvador Dali, with whom he made Un chien andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930), and even when making 'Hollywood' movies like Robinson Crusoe (1954) enough of that vision surfaced to create an enigmatic and unsettling cinematic experience.

Viridiana is the story of a young novice nun, the glacially beautiful Silvia Pinal (The Exterminating Angel), who, on the verge of taking her vows, is urged by her Mother Superior to visit her dying uncle Don Jaime, long time Bunuel fall-guy Fernando Rey.

Don Jaime lives in some comfort with his housekeeper Ramona, (Margarita Lozano, A Fistful Of Dollars) and her daughter. Viridiana is the image of Don Jaime's dead wife, who died on her wedding night, and inevitably Don Jaime falls in love with her. On the eve of returning to the convent Viridiana allows herself to be persuaded to wear her Aunt's wedding gown for a final meal; on Don Jaime's instructions Ramona administers sleeping drugs, and Don Jaime attempts to rape his niece, in order to force her into marriage so that she will remain with him. Having established that she is still intact, Viridiana returns to the convent, but Don Jaime - with a sly grin - modifies his Will before hanging himself with Ramona's daughter's skipping rope.

The terms of the Will place Viridiana and Don Jaime's estranged son Jorge, Francisco Rabal as joint holders of the property. Jorge arrives with his girlfriend and moves into the main house, where, easily attuning to his role as Don, sets about renovating the property and farm; Viridiana moves into the farm buildings and collects a group of beggars whom she hopes to 'save'. Jorge is irritated by Viridiana's apparent indifference to him; his girlfriend recognises Jorge's attraction to his cousin and leaves, whereupon Jorge begins a relationship with the adoring Ramona.

In town to visit their lawyer, and take Ramona's daughter to the dentist, Viridiana and Jorge leave the house at the mercy of the beggars, who break in, have a feast, get drunk, dance to Don Jaime's phonograph of the Hallelujah Chorus, and, in a famous scene, parody Da Vinci's Last Supper while posing for a photograph. When the others return, two of the beggars attack Jorge and rape Viridiana before the arrival of the local constabulary.

There is a grim inevitability about this film, which is in the great tradition of the foolish innocent learning the harsh reality of the world; that Viridiana is a nun reinforces Bunuel's anti-clerical stance and proved to be a red rag to Mother Church. There are two particular telling scenes where the director goes to pains to flag up a message, in one, Jorge buys a dog from a passing tradesman who has forced the unfortunate animal to run tethered alongside his cart, as Jorge turns away with his rescued pet a second cart passes buy with an identically tethered dog, in another scene the beggars kneel for the Angelus with every show of sincere piety, while, in counterpoint to their devotions, Jorge's workmen go about their building work with furious zeal.

The film has an erotic charge that is all the more powerful for its understatement. On arrival at Don Jaime's house Viridiana retires to her room and slowly draws off her thick black stockings revealing wonderfully sculpted white legs; in a sleep walking incident Viridiana sits by Don Jaime's fireside with her nightgown up around her thighs to her uncle's obvious disconcertion.

The film has a happy ending of sorts. After her ordeal, Viridiana takes down her hair and visits Jorge's room; she is surprised to find Ramona already there. Jorge tells Viridiana that they have been playing cards, how else are they to pass the evenings? The three sit down to a hand of cards, Jorge deals anti-clockwise and suggests that from the first he knew that one day he would play cards with his cousin; from a jazz record a female vocalist sings "I love her and she loves me... shake your cares away."
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