Director: Luis Buñuel
Production Co.: Uninci SA / Films 59 / Gustavo Alatriste
Producer: R. Munoz Suay
Screenplay: Luis Buñuel, Julio Alejandro
Cinematography: Jose F. Aguayo
Editor: Pedro del Rey
Art Director: Francisco Canet
Assistant directors: Pujol & Juan Luis Buñuel
Viridiana: Silvia Pinal
Jorge: Francisco Rabal
Don Jaime: Fernando Rey
Ramona: Margarita Lozano
Lucia: Victoria Zinny
Rita: Teresa Rabal
Jose Manuel Martin
Juan Garcia Tienda
Black & White
Spanish, with English subtitles
Palme d'Or, Cannes 1961
It's a great film, the masterpiece of one of the world's outstanding living artists - pessimist, anarchist, blasphemous puritan that he is.
- David Robinson
Photography, editing, acting, settings, all are superbly handled for one remorseless and inevitable act of self-expression. Here is a film really to argue about night without end.
- Paul Rotha, Films & Filming, 6/62
I don't see why people complain. My heroine is more of a virgin at the denouement than she was at the start.
- Luis Buñuel
The Franco government invited Buñuel back after 25 years exile in Mexico to make this film. Ironically, Viridiana was subsequently banned in Spain, and, even after winning the Palme d'Or in 1961, the director was threatened by the Italian authorities with imprisonment. This scathing look at the role of the Church in contemporary Spain still shocks, particularly in the blisteringly cruel final half. Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a novitiate who arrives at a run-down estate to see her last remaining relative, an uncle (Fernando Rey), who involves her in fetishistic rituals. After her uncle commits suicide, Viridiana seeks penance by inviting homeless people to the estate, who eventually run riot. The pastiche of The Last Supper, set to Handel's 'Messiah', by any standards is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.
- Sight & Sound, 3/95
Viridiana is obviously the apogee of Bunuel's life work. One simply cannot imagine a more starkly assured and uncompromisingly black expression of a preoccupation reaching back thirty years to L'Age d'Or. The characteristic emblems - feet, insects, transvestism, dreams of ashes and black bulls, a novice's hand hesitantly fumbling with the udder of a cow - almost imperceptibly build up the film's mood, becoming gradually more and more sinister and finally compelling the viewer with all the confidence of a snake charming act. A philosophical picture, its characters have not so much a shaded role to play as an intellectual design to fulfil, and the players are without exception equal to Bunuel's demands. Occasionally he slips into their personal stories a sudden schematic analogy, as in the scene involving the two dogs or the cross-cutting of the angelus with the builders' toil. The film's natural form of expression is cruelty, a language at once pictorially assured and as cutting as a whip, beautiful in its devastating accuracy, powerful in its rejection of even a hint of a overwhelming need for pity. One of the cinema's few major philosophical works, Viridiana is almost certainly Bunuel's masterpiece.
- Robert Vas, Monthly Film Bulletin, 6/62
Buñuel is not a believer to be overlooked. He obviously believes in the miraculous or, rather, in the liberating force of the irrational and in the poetry of instinct. Religion, however, as commonly understood, is paradoxically merely an attempt to rationalise the miraculous. It holds that God's existence can explain everything, whereas in reality the miraculous ceases being so the moment an argument, albeit an argument based on a supreme being, claims to endow it with logical meaning. This is the function of dogma. And of one thing I am certian - Buñuel is utterly free of dogmatism. He likewise instinctively opposes a secular form of rationalism which endows man with the ability to attain absolute knowledge, which is another form of dogmatism, one which gives man divine powers...
Because Buñuel is an atheist, for that very reason he is not really blasphemous. His attitude is devoid of all diabolism. Not once does this movie-maker deride or insult God, which would be tantamount to acknowledging His existence. Buñuel never discusses God. What he discusses is man's conception of God, thereby revealing the strange, unpredictable role that religion plays in the subconscious of his characters. In Viridiana, Buñuel does not group the beggars in an arrangement similar to the figures in Da Vinci's Last Supper in order to belittle Christ and his apostles by comparing them to some drunkards... If indeed he is mocking anything, it is not Christ himself but the manner in which Christ's image is worshipped. By the same token a crucifix serves doubly as a pocketknife, and the protagonist's objects of worship (a cross and a crown of thorns) are subconscious symbols of erotic impulses. Idolizing or insulting Christ are polar aspects of a similar dogmatic attitude, whereas incorporating religion and making it function within the characters' innermost, unfathomable lives is something else again. A crucifix does not lose its mystical aura if someone spits on it, but it does if it is subjected to a use for which it was not intended. And it is noteworthy that although objects of worship lose their mystical qualities, they retain for Buñuel their miraculous qualities. Every atheist knows this although he would not admit it.
Buñuel can neither prevent nor ignore the fact that his work is an outgrowth of the broad symbolism of a Catholic conception of the world... The Buñuelian trinity of eroticism - religion - death, a constant theme in his films, is conceivable only within the specific limits of Catholicism and, more concretely, of Spanish Catholicism. Viridiana has confirmed what we might have always suspected: Buñuel, the apotheosis of anti-patriotism, has never ceased being profoundly Spanish...
Buñuel's Spanishness explains to a great extent the persistence of the religious theme in his films. Spain has never completely abandoned the Inquisitorial spirit which couples the notion of sin with physical chastisement. Buñuel's films depict carnal flagellation and laceration and how it leads to the wild extremes of abnormal eroticism, masochism and fetishism. In Viridiana we watch Fernando Rey squeezing his feet into a pair of women's shoes and putting on a woman's corset, another form of physical oppression. Necrophilia, too, is clearly suggested when the forementioned character goes into ecstasy over Silvia Pinal's inert body, a replica of his long deceased wife. Death and love are associated as forms of absolute possession...
An entire book could be written about Viridiana without exhausting its subtle meanings and implications. I have discussed the characters played by Silvia Pinal and Fernando Rey, but a great deal could also be said about the character portrayed by Francisco Rabal, who typifies a mongrel, commonsense Spain, stripped of poetry, which Buñuel ironically concedes with victory at the end of the film, when Viridiana winds up playing cards. And then there is Ramona, the servant, another participant in the card game, who by sleeping with her employer gains the right to eat at the same table with him and who seems to foreshadow the future downfall of traditional hierarchies. The beggars, those excruciatingly human characters, enable Buñuel to achieve one of the most hallucinatory scenes that has ever been seen on the screen. It is straight out of Goya.
- Emilio G. Riera, Film Culture, Spring 1962