Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Luis Bunuel, 84m, Spain, 1961, Palme d'Or

A mordant satire about humanity, and comedy of the kind which leaves you depressed and disgusted. Shot on a dark surrealist palette it depicts the seamy lumpen layers of society--a ragged crowd of beggars: maimed, leprous, blind, pregnant. Mayhem breaks as the restraints are withdrawn, and the goodies of life spread out before them, asking to be looted.

 A bacchanalian feast of beggars with a lavish spread and the liqueurs flowing turning into a bawdy brawl is topped by a composition mimicking Leonardo's Last Supper, which drew the opprobrium of the Vatican and the Franco government. A score of Handel's Messiah recurring through the movie is a somewhat over-obvious satire.

On another level, we find that the reactions of the better to do, are not so different beneath the veneer.

A consolation is the cinematography, but then you would have to return again to relish that. The first view is an exercise to absorb the dense and layered film which does not yield itself easily. The film is in turns provocative, titillating, disgusting and shocking.

The plot. Viridiana, a nun (Silvia Pinal), takes a few days off from her convent to see her rich uncle. The uncle is attracted to her and proposes marriage, and even schemes to take advantage of her after drugging her. When she refuses, he hangs himself. Viridiana decides to give up the cloth and instead turns part of the vast villa which she now owns into a hospice for the poor and indigent. This charity rebounds and climaxes with an assault on her by a leprosy victim, one of her chosen beneficiaries. The movie concludes as Viridiana knocks at night on the door of her cousin, presumably ready to take on life on new terms. Bunuel clearly prefers the earthiness of ordinary people with it's wart's and stinks, to clerical pretension.


Nathanael Hood said...

You know, as a Christian, I have always been able to tolerate Bunuel's contempt for organized religion and what not.

But there was one scene in this movie that pissed me off. It was when they rescue the dog from getting pulled behind the cart and Bunuel shows another dog being pulled by a cart.

It's supposed to be a satire of religion trying to save everyone. It makes me think, "Then that means we shouldn't try to save even one!"

Pisses me off......................

Good film, otherwise.

I prefer his later work, though.

S. M. Rana said...

@Nathanael Hood

I certainly would not take Bunuel as a guide for one's conduct and belief's. At best he is an artist.

I am reminded of a sentence from Schindler's list where a Jewish scripture is quoted to the effect that a person who saves one human life saves the world. That should go for dogs too!!

Cinema and literature are all very fine, but hardly the place where one can find the answers to the fundamental questions. Even the great Tolstoi ended his life in consternation. Shakespeare is described as morally neutral.

Nathanael Hood said...

No, I totally understand. That's why I love the rest of his work.

That one scene just seemed so...irrational and illogical.

S. M. Rana said...

I agree. Not saving one because you can't save the lot is illogical and irrational, Senor Surrealist Bunuel. I have always loved the below poem.

Anonymous said...

After watching "The Exterminating Angel", I saw lots of Bunuel's works including this, and it stays with that "The Last Supper" sequence in my mind. It was so sudden that it made me to burst out laughing. I think The movie is as bitingly funny as his other best movies.

S. M. Rana said...

kaist455:Viridiana's commitment is superficial from the start and the events after she leaves the convent show the process of disintegration of her faith as it is assaulted by one thing after another.You have heard of gallows humor. This looks like the humor of pigs in a sty due for early slaughter. Of course human nature doesn't change by charity. Slum children really hate social workers and ridicule them to shreds behind their back.