21 May 2011

Viridiana: A Film About Which I Don't Know What to Say But Will Say it Anyway

The key to life is to be happy. To seek  your shining light. Find whatever meaning you like along the way, but make every effort to discover and spread joy whenever possible.

I've really got to say something. I've just watched this amazing film and right here is this film blog. So naturally I feel obliged to write about it.

It's not easy when you're in the "wow!" phase of having just witnessed something special. You want to process what you've seen and how you feel. Moments, images, scenes, characters, meanings, illusions, allusions maybe even the Aleutians are all swirling around. How then to translate all that into words? Coherent ones in sentences within paragraphs within a theme.

Writing or telling about something wonderful isn't obligatory of course, but it can be a good exercise. It can help you understand how you feel, what moves you and why. Movies are better suited to such occasional discipline because they contain an inherent structure which includes a story and characters. Much is subject to our interpretation and much is clear to one and all. Still in writing about an experience with a film we sometimes face the difficulty of exposure. Digging into ourselves and then sharing what we find. It can seem personal and as in this case for me, it can be difficult to find words for.

Luis Bunuel's Viridiana (1961) is about a prospective nun, the title character, who before taking her final vows that will cut her off from the "outside world" for the rest of her days, pays Uncle a visit. Turns out she bears a striking resemblance to Uncle's late wife, very late as she died on their wedding night. Suffice to say that Uncle (Fernando Rey) becomes obsessed and weirdness ensues. It won't surprise you to learn that Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) never returns to the convent.

Indeed she doesn't leave Uncle's estate. Viridiana does not suffer a crisis of faith. There is a trauma the result of which is that she decides to serve God as a free agent. This primarily consists of providing shelter for the nearby town's homeless and unwashed. Meanwhile the Uncle's son moves in with his girlfriend and....

But you see I'm getting caught up with details. While these details are constructed masterfully by Bunuel (subversively, according to some) to create deeper meanings, they aren't for me to parcel out any further.

Viridiana the character is eminently watchable and both admirable and beautiful, not to mention consistent to her own truths. She is the strong moral center. And yet, Viridiana the film is not kind to Catholicism. But Bunuel was an equal opportunity satirist. He took on anyone with two legs and any group that consisted of humans (I don't know, maybe he had a go at critters in one of his film's too).

Bunuel's camera lingers on feet (you read that right) a few times early in the film. Fetishism perhaps, but also some what I saw as surrealistic foreshadowing (you read that right too). Viridiana is quite intentionally subject to interpretation, a classic example being the famous Last Supper shot (see photo above) at the beggar's banquet. And about that banquet.....What a scene. Lord of the Flies for adults, society's debris loose in the mansion without supervision. Havoc.

Viridiana is yet another unassailable argument on behalf of the beauty of black and white cinema photography as well as a pat on the back to the restorative powers of the good people at Criterion. But mostly it is a testimony to Bunuel, the director and writer of the film. He did the audacious, the scandalous the subversive and made art of it. Viridiana was made and then banned in his native Spain, not seen there until the death of Franco in 1975. Not surprisingly the Catholic church had a hissy fit over the film.

Such is art. It can take people out of their comfort zone and present them with a story and a kind of story telling that is uncomfortable. Light is shined on truths many would rather keep in the dark. For the rest of us, the fact that, in the case of Viridiana, a ruckus was kicked up 50 years ago, is an amusing sidebar.

I've meandered about in trying to say something about this wonderful film, not really scratching the surface of how I reacted to it. Let me try this: through its presentation of a story about a straight forward person in extraordinary circumstances surrounded by unusual characters and by choosing to focus on unique elements of the story, Viridiana was to me a moving cinematic experience. I highly recommend it.


1 comment:

R. D. Finch said...

A lovely post. I'm a huge fan of Bunuel. This was the first movie I ever saw by him and it's still my favorite of the many fine films he made. So many directors try to express the ineffable or the surreal or combine dreams and reality on film and just come off seeming incomprehensible and pretentious. But never Bunuel. His films defy description (although you did a good job), yet I never feel confused. They have their own crazy internal logic that makes them hang together. Don't ask me how he did this, but he did--successfully and time after time. Just one of the greats, and one of the true originals, of cinema. A visionary in every sense of the word.