Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Luis Buñuel's Viridiana
Viridiana is a 1961 Spanish-Mexican motion picture, directed by Luis Buñuel and produced by Mexican Gustavo Alatriste. It is loosely based on Halma, a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós.
I can't think of a more mischievous filmmaker than Luis Buñuel. After you get to know him, you can catch him winking in the first few shots. Under the opening title shot of "Viridiana," we hear Handel's "Messiah," but knowing Buñuel we doubt this will be a religious picture. In the second and third shots, we see a Mother Superior advising a novice at a cloistered convent to visit her old uncle before he dies. No good can come of this in a Buñuel film. The fourth shot shows a girl skipping rope. Well, not the whole girl, just her feet, observed for a little too long. "That was a wonderful afternoon little Luis spent on the floor of his mother's closet," Pauline Kael once observed, "and he has never allowed us to forget it."
So: Buñuel the satirist, Buñuel the anti-clerical, Buñuel the fetishist. That's the usual litany, but we should not exclude Buñuel the grandmaster of black comedy. None of his films is lacking a cheerfully sardonic view of human nature. His object is always dry humor. Even when he was working for Hollywood studios, recycling the sets and costumes of English-language pictures into Spanish versions of the same screenplays, or later simply dubbing them into Spanish, he slyly slipped in a few touches that were lacking in the sources. He is one of the great originals, creator of satirical delight, sometimes hilarious funny, and if you love great movies you sooner or later get to him.