The time is rapidly approaching where I will have no more Luis Bunuel films left on the list. Frankly, I’m not too sure what I should be feeling toward such an event. I want to dismiss him entirely as a filmmaker, but then I’m reminded of films like Los Olvidados and The Exterminating Angel, and I’m forced to admit that he isn’t all bad; that there’s been at least some stuff of worth that I’ve found thanks to my odyssey. Then along comes a film like Viridiana, that doesn’t fit squarely into either camp; it’s not purely surrealist enough for me to hate it, but neither is it really good enough for me to like it. Like so many other Bunuel films, this is content to merely be, to present its story with as little flair and panache as possible, and think that that’s enough. Well, in this case, it wasn’t enough, but I don’t really know how adding any flair would’ve bettered the film at all.
Mild spoilers follow, as always, but especially for this film.
Silvia Pinal is Bunuel’s leading lady this time, in a role and story that Bunuel would largely revisit a decade later in Tristana; namely, as the Book puts it, the “seduction and corruption of an innocent”. Viridiana is a young woman soon to take her vows at a convent, when she is called to visit her uncle one last time before effectively exiting the world. Only thing is, she bears a striking resemblance to her late aunt; so much so that her uncle tries to take advantage of her while she is asleep, only to stop himself at the last second, and then kill himself in remorse. Now forced to abandon the convent to tend to the estate, which her uncle left her in his last will, she decides to continue to serve the Lord by housing and educating a motley group of homeless people, only to find herself once again the object of affection of a relative; her uncle’s son Jorge, who has also inherited the estate. I feel I’d be repeating myself if I were to say that the plot is really the only reason to see this Bunuel film, and I’d probably be right; there is so little of note and worth to this one that to latch onto the plot as the film’s main selling point is to do just that. Once again, Bunuel’s surrealist fascination with animals makes several appearances here; pretty much whenever a shot of an animal of any kind appears that has no actual bearing on the plot, you can bet it’s there to satisfy this side of Bunuel. This is about the extent of his surrealism in this one, however; a trend that is quite welcome with me, and seems to be a continuing one in this phase of his career.
It undoubtedly helped this film’s chances of making it onto the list that it ended up being banned in its home country for the next 16 years, finally being released in 1977, as well as the incestuous nature of the plot. Besides that, though, this would just be another unremarkable Bunuel film, a title I could reasonably apply to Bunuel’s entire filmography. Even with only one of his films left for me on the list, I’m not holding out much hope, since it was removed in the recent edition, and thus doesn’t hold much promise. Still, this wasn’t bad, but neither was it any good. The only real praise about it I could find from Bunuel enthusiasts pretty much only applies if you’re a Bunuel enthusiast, which I am clearly not, so I guess I’ll just take it and leave it. Like almost all of Bunuel’s filmography, this just left me with one thought: “Oh well.”
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10