For Reel

Viridiana (1961)
April 1, 2016, 7:23 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Luis Buñuel
5 Stars
ViridianaViridiana is notoriously one of the most radical transgressions in film history. It inspired a famous political cartoon in which Francisco Franco is seen welcoming now renowned auteur Luis Buñuel back to Spain, only for Buñuel to present a package titled Viridiana that blows up in the dictator’s face. And yet, if the film does indeed pose an extreme challenge to organized religion, what is memorable about the picture is not how it challenges institutions per se, but about how it interprets a certain disconnect that happens when the privileged aspire to be virtuous. In one of the film’s most famous images, the eponymous character’s cousin (Francisco Rabal) saves a dog from the cruel fate of being dragged by a wagon, risking strangulation should it not keep up. Few images elicit audience empathy more than animal cruelty, and so this noble act immediately characterizes the cousin as a man of character. Only seconds thereafter, Buñuel upends the whole tone of the scene by focusing on another dog in an identical situation going the other way across the road, our do-gooder oblivious to it. The scene is a perfect summarization of everything the film is about—Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) ultimately fails in her charitable act of bringing together the town’s disenfranchised because of a fundamental misunderstanding of how difficult it is to change one’s nature—but it also allows the audience to participate in Buñuel’s themes. Our momentary satisfaction at the salvation of one animal does nothing in the battle against a way of life in which cruelty to animals is a deep-rooted pattern.

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