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With: Sylvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Margarita Lozano, Teresa Rabal, José Calvo, Victoria Zinny
Written by: Luis Buñuel, Julio Alejandro,
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 91
Date: 05/19/1961

Viridiana (1961)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Ghastly Supper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes you see a movie that satisfies you on every level.

I had already seen Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour, and of course, Un Chien Andalou, but I hadn't considered how wildly anarchic and disrespectful Bunuel was until I discovered his films thorugh Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video Guide. After that, I read Bunuel's autobiography, My Last Sigh, and saw several films one on top of the other. But Viridiana stands out.

Bunuel's frequent star Fernando Rey plays Don Jaime, the uncle of a nun, who has paid for her admission to school. At the behest of the Mother Superior, the nun, Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) goes to visit her benefactor since she has never thanked him in person for his kindness. Once there, she revives memories of the uncle's dead wife, and he drugs her and tells her he has slept with her, then kills himself. Now that she can no longer go back to the nunnery, she inherits his house, and turns it into a home for bums and outcasts. When she leaves them alone for an evening, the outcasts break into the big house and have a feast. At one point, they pose like the Last Supper. Authorities tried to burn all existing prints of Viridiana for that scene. Fortunately, they survived.

It's hard to describe Bunuel in writing. He has a distinctive style, unlike any other filmmaker. His images are always dreamlike, and they flow with a dream logic, abandoning a story line at any moment for a new one. He tries to include unconventional images that don't belong anywhere. In Viridiana, there is a sequence where a horse drawn cart rolls along the road with a dog on a leash tied to the undercarriage. A man (Francisco Rabal) buys the dog from its owner to prevent any further cruelty. As they walk away, another cart rolls by with another dog tied to it. Bunuel says this was quite common in his hometown, but the image always haunted him. Now it haunts us.

Bunuel is the one of the greatest of all filmmakers. He opens your mind, and makes you feel alive and comfortable, as if you were dreaming. See Viridiana, and all other movies will seem to be missing something from then on.

DVD Details: Nearly ten years after I wrote the above review, The Criterion Collection has released a crisp new DVD. Extras include a selection of interviews and a trailer, but the liner notes are packed with good stuff: an essay and an interview with Bunuel.

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