Tag: Spain

Viridiana – obsessions

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)


Viridiana – prologue

Thirty some years after the scandal of L’Age d’Or, Luis Buñuel kicked convention in the teeth once again with Viridiana (1961). He’d spent the first few of those intervening years working as an executive producer for French studio films (with the stipulation that his name never appear in association with the finished product), and as an agent for Republican Spain during the disastrous Civil War. Later, he spent time as a bemused cine-tourist in the United States, dubbing Spanish language films and editing historical footage for the Museum of Modern Art. Rootless and semi-employed for years, desperate to find a means to support himself and his family, he finally settled in Mexico with the hopes of landing a job through connections with the Spanish exile community.

Between 1930 and 1947, Buñuel directed only one film, the short documentary Las Hurdes or Terra Sans Pain (you can watch it here in French, no subtitles), in 1933. Then nothing as he scrambled to make a living as first Spain, then all of Europe convulsed in armed conflict. Mexico offered a refuge and the possibility of employment in the local film industry.

Buñuel’s Mexican debut was, by his own admission, mediocre , but he soon found his groove. Working fast, with bare-bones budgets, shooting scenes in the order they were scripted to minimize editing time, he pounded out 18 films from 1949 to 1960. Despite the lack of resources, six of these films were official selections at Cannes, and three came away with prizes.

This surge of popular and critical success must have been on the minds of the government officials who invited the prodigal to return to the fatherland and make a movie in Franco’s Spain. I wonder if any of the fascist fuddy-duddies bothered to watch any of his films. Buñuel’s movies of the fifties, melodramas and adventure stories for the masses, nevertheless consistently undercut the authority of institutions like the church, the state, and the police. In addition, the director continued to imbue his commercial work with his own taste for disturbing imagery that ignored distinctions between interior and exterior reality. How officials in charge of a very effective state propaganda machine could miss these elements is a mystery to me.

Imagine yourself as a mid level toady in the Ministry of Culture of a devoutly Catholic dictatorship and read these three short plot summaries (spoiler alert!):

El (1953) – a paranoid husband torments his wife, convinced that she is unfaithful, eventually sewing up her vagina. You can watch the opening five minutes (or the entire film if you want to download the Veoh player). The film has barely started and already you have a bishop planting passionate kisses on altar boy feet while parishioners exchange lusty glances.

Ensayo de un Crimen (1955) – a wealthy man plans a series of murders, but each of his intended victims is killed by other means or he is interrupted before he can act. He menaces a nun with a straight razor (she dies falling down an empty elevator shaft); he prepares to strangle a woman but is interrupted when unexpected guests arrive and take a tour of his home; his betrothed, whom he intends to shoot on their wedding night, is instead shot to death by an ex-lover.

Nazarin (1959) – Padre Nazario, a Roman Cathoic priest, “walks the walk” of Jesus, living amongst the poor in a run-down hotel, attempting to influence the lives of those around him through charity and good works. But his interactions with people, undertaken with the best of intentions, tend to have chaotic results. The priest’s story parallels the life of Christ, only with absurd outcomes. In one scene, Nazario tries to help a dying woman but she ignores his attempts to administer last rites, calling out instead for her husband.

Despite a catalogue of films like these, Luis Buñuel was invited back to Spain to make a movie. Sixty years old, in total command of his medium after a decade of intense productivity, the director stepped back onto his native soil with the full support of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Caudillo de España, por la gracia de Dios.

(contributed by Inti)