Blog Directory CineVerse: A synergy of religion, sex and surrealism

A synergy of religion, sex and surrealism

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Arguably the most important and influential director of Spanish-language speaking films, Luis Bunuel can be an inscrutable artist for many viewers to decipher. But a good entry point into his canon is "Viridiana," which raised the ire of the Vatican and the Franco regime in Bunuel's native Spain in the early 1960s. Here's a recap of what our film discussion group learned about this memorable masterwork:

·       The movie features several memorable and off-putting images, including a crucifix that turns into a switchblade, a dog tortured by a pulling rope, a suicide and the rope that caused it being used in various ways, an image of the beggars meant to resemble da Vinci’s The Last Supper, fetishistic shots of feet, a cat jumping on a rat (juxtaposed to images of Jorge seducing Ramona), a shot of Viridiana crossing her chest with her arms and a cross in one hand followed immediately by a shot of a farmer milking cow udders, the famous scene where Don Jaime dresses his niece up to look like his dead wife, drugs her and then nearly ravishes her (suggesting necrophilia), and other startling shots.
·       The tone of the film changes throughout the movie: it starts out as a gothic melodrama depicting an innocent young beauty who is endangered in her uncle’s creepy castle, and transforms into a sardonic, ironic, satirical comedy/drama of sorts whereby the beggars and their actions usurp the proceedings; the final tone of defeat and surrender (conveyed in the last shot of the threesome playing cards) leaves viewers with a different emotional feel, as well.
·       Through imagery, tone and symbolism, the film is rich with suggestive themes and meanings that seem to question organized religion and religious piety. The fact that this sweet, virginal, well-intentioned girl gives up in her quest to redeem herself and sinners around her feels like a bold slap in the face to late 1950s/early 1960s filmgoers who are used to censored Hollywood material where the virtuous are rewarded and the lecherous are punished.
·       It’s a film split into two halves—the first half concerning the title character and her uncle in his lavish home attempting to woo and bed Viridiana; the second half related to Viridiana’s attempt to perform merciful works and redeem a group of beggars following her uncle’s suicide.

·       The attempt to find piety, purity, true selflessness and holiness in our secular, imperfect world is a losing battle—this is a world that cannot be redeemed. As proof, think about a key shot in the film: Jorge, seeing a dog being pulled mercilessly by a rope tied to a cart, buys and frees the dog, but then doesn’t notice that there’s another helpless dog in the same predicament going the opposite way; and the dog he frees desires to go back to its former abusive master. The message? Despite our best intentions, we cannot escape our base instincts and utterly imperfect human natures.
·       Guilt is a major theme: The uncle’s guilt at nearly violating his niece, and the title character’s guilt at being an object of desire and unworthy of becoming a nun. Also, the words “forgiveness” and “offense” are used frequently throughout the picture.
·       Naiveté is another theme, exemplified by the girl’s inexperience, faith in her uncle and faith in the sinful beggars.
·       The fine line between tragic and comic, between spiritual and profane, between pleasure and pain, and the dichotomous nature of human beings to experience all of these extremes.
·       The clash between spiritualism and secularism, as embodied in the characters of Viridiana and Jorge, respectively.
·       Spiritual gain vs. materialistic, worldly gain: ponder the montage scene where Viridiana leads her group of vagrants in kneeling prayer, shots of which are juxtaposed with images of Jorge’s men diligently working to improve the estate (logs being sawed, stone being hammered, masonry being placed). By the end of the film, it’s relatively clear that Jorge’s efforts to salvage his land and upgrade his grounds are successful, yet it’s obvious that Viridiana’s efforts to save the souls of her vagrants have been in vain.

·       One writer, Jamie S. Rich, theorized that “Buñuel is warping the idea of a nun being married to her savior. There is an understated allegorical element to Viridiana where Don Jaime is God, though in this scenario, the Supreme Being is disillusioned with his creation. The noble ideals that inspired his earliest efforts have been replaced by an understandable disappointment in life, and the son he sent out into the world has done his own thing rather than continue the mission.”
·       Consider the hypocrisy of religion that Bunuel suggests: although Viridiana yearns to do the righteous, moral thing, it is only after feeling guilty for being besmirched by her uncle and after feeling that she is a physical temptation who can no longer pursue nunhood that she attempts these Good Samaritan acts.
·       Consider the provocative, symbolic imagery: a white dove, representing religious purity, is killed; a black bull seen by the little girl insinuates the coming of Satan; and lambs are slaughtered for the feast of the beggars.
·       Consider, too, Viridiana’s pet project: the saving of the beggars, who resemble the 12 disciples in The Last Supper; if these are Christ’s most treasured followers, are they really worth saving and redeeming?
·       The filmmakers choose to use Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus in an almost mocking, ironic way.
·       The last shot hints at an unholy trinity to replace the holy trinity: three young sinners who are likely about to engage in a ménage a trios.

·       One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (consider the scene involving the patients having a party that gets out of control)
·       The Sound of Music (another film depicting a young woman from a convent who reluctantly agrees to go to the home of a wealthy aristocrat nearby)
·       M.A.S.H., which also has a shot that mimics da Vinci’s “Last Supper”

·       The Golden Age
·       Los Olvidados
·       The Exterminating Angel
·       Belle de Jour
·       Tristana
·       The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois
·       That Obscure Object of Desire 

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