Viridiana marks the key moment where the themes and visual motifs that make sporadic appearances in Luis Buñuel’s earlier work are refined, focused and illuminated in a way they could not have been previously. Liberated from the constraints of inexperience, lack of resources, and corny screenplays, he could now surrender to the passions that had inflamed his earliest films, passions that would continue to sustain him for the rest of his career.
Buñuel himself wrote: “Viridiana follows most closely my personal traditions in filmmaking since I made L’Age d’Or thirty years ago. In all my work, these are the two films which I directed with the greatest feeling of freedom.” *
The Centro Virtual Cervantes has a great series of stills from Buñuel’s films aptly titled “Obsessiones”. Below are some examples of the director’s “traditions,” and how they are represented in the movie:
Iconography of the Roman Catholic Church – The title character is a novitiate about to take her vows. In her luggage she carries a cross, nails, crown of thorns and a hammer. A character plays with a crucifix that is also a pocket knife. A group of beggars recreates the tableau of da Vinci’s last supper.
Women’s legs, feet and shoes – Spying through a keyhole, Viridiana’s uncle, Don Jaime, watches the young woman lift her dress to remove her black stockings. The uncle tries to squeeze his foot into one of his dead wife’s shoes. The uncle watches his housekeeper’s daughter jump rope, his eyes focused on her ratty woolen leggings and sandals. Viridiana, sleepwalking, sits next to the fire and pulls her nightdress up above her knees before tossing balls of yarn into the flames.
Necrophilia – Don Jaime tells his niece that she reminds him of his dead wife. He has kept the dead woman’s wedding dress, and convinces Viridiana to wear it. After drugging her, he attempts to violate her while she sleeps, but cannot bring himself to go through with it.
Animals & insects– Viridiana watches a ranch hand milk a cow and asks for a cup of fresh milk. The worker encourages her to take hold of the udder and express it herself, but she cannot bring her herself to touch the engorged teat. Later, her cousin Jorge is shocked to see a dog tied to the undercarriage of a wagon and forced to run along at the speed of the horse or be dragged to its death. He convinces the owner to sell it to him. Satisfied with his good deed, he leads the dog away from the road, never noticing a second cart that passes with a dog tied to it. Earlier, when Viridiana first arrives at her uncle’s estate, he saves a bee from drowning in a bucket of water.
Hands – Viridiana’s hands crossed on her chest in her drugged sleep. The housekeeper playfully bites the hand of her new employer. Don Jaime’s hands play sacred music on the organ. One of the beggars, hands wrapped to cover the sores of his illness, catches a dove and, later, pulls fistfuls of feathers from inside his jacket. Jorge deals cards to himself, the housekeeper and Viridiana.
*The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism, ed. Joan Mellen
(contributed by Inti)