Luis Buñuel film in which Fernando Rey plays an aging lecher. Okay, that’s a feeble joke. Look for a “Which Buñuel film am I watching?” flowchart to completed sometime this summer.
Viridiana is a blasphemous film about the consolations and proper uses of religion.The titular character is a novice nun who returns to the world one last time before taking her vows in order to spend some time on the estate of her widower uncle Don Jaime (Rey), who has sponsored her entry into the convent. As with most of the characters played by Rey in the Buñuel canon, Don Jaime is very wealthy and inflamed with lust by any young woman, and as such he tries to tempt Viridiana to marry him and stay with him. The night before Viridiana is to return to the convent, Don Jaime asks the naif if she would do him a favor, which consists of wearing his dead wife’s wedding dress and shoes, which we had seen him caressing earlier. With the help of his maid and some drugs, Don Jaime prepares to ravish Viridiana only to find that he cannot go through with it. In deep shame, he kills himself, though Viridiana only finds this out as she is about to board the bus back to the convent.
Viridiana inherits the estate, but she has to share it with Don Jaime’s out of wedlock son, Jorge, who is a typical modern smoothy who wants to bring electricity and modern farming methods to the estate.
Viridiana wants to use her wealth to help people, and starts a home for some begging invalids. This doesn’t turn out to well, as as soon as they are left unsupervised, they throw a raucus party culminating in a tableau vivant of Leonardo’s “Last Supper” and dancing to Handel’s Messiah, the only phonograph record Don Jaime had, which he used to play the organ along to.
As the beggars give in to their urges, one of them says of his cohorts “Let them sin…it’s good for the soul….then they can repent.” which to me is pretty much the summation of any functional version of Christianity. The rules-based ascetiscism Viridiana learned in the convent and tries to apply to real life is just not practical for human beings.
In the wonderful ending, (which, apparently Buñuel adapted from the censors’ suggestions) Jorge invites a chastened (but ready to become unchaste) Viridiana to play cards with him and maid, with whom he is already having an affair (unlike his father, who remained faithful to his dead wife, or so we are led to believe). A rock and roll record blares on the phonograph, with the chorus “Shake your cares away,” and Jorge explains the rules of the game to Viridiana, and that they play cards because the “nights are long and you have to fill them somehow.” The consolation of other people, of being the bride of the world rather than the bride of Christ, is the only option left to us, born sinners who would certainly not be able to deal with paradise even if it were given to us. It seems a little odd for me to use a film banned in Spain and other countries for blasphemy as an example of the kind of religion I find attractive, but I really see a kinship between the themes of this movie and the earthly spirituality of a Dostoevsky or Bresson, and I don’t think that Buñuel would necessarily think that that’s a bad thing.
Viridiana is currently unavailable on Region1 DVD