Thursday, March 01, 2007

Viridiana (1961)

Ever ready to gnaw on any hand that tried to feed him, Luis Buñuel celebrated his return to Spain, from where he'd been professionally exiled for making a film (L'Age d'Or) deemed heretical, by making a film that exudes heresy and profanity from its every frame. Far from aimless provocation, though, Buñuel's film is about the relentlessness of corruptibility. Of course, there's the obvious; Silvia Pinal's title character starts as an oasis of good in a moral desert, but the film gradually wears her down -- it starts with small things, like Fernando Rey convincing her to trade, just for one night, her initiate's habit (a symbol of unassailable purity) for a wedding dress (a symbol of purity that is meant to be cast aside) but eventually descends into cruelty and defilement. If one cares to look for it, though, everything in the film is corrupt in some manner. There's your crucifix revealed as a hidden dagger. There's your jump rope -- a harmless children's toy -- fashioned into a suicide's noose. There's your scene with Francisco Rabal buying an abused dog's freedom only to have another pass him by unnoticed (the futility of doing good works in a Godless world?). This all leads up to the famed beggar's-banquet sequence, as magnificent and anarchic a setpiece as ever devised by the brilliant director; the infectious energy, harmless at first, turns messier and angrier, with a pitstop for a potshot at Da Vinci's "Last Supper." By the dissolate end of the feast, all Pinal's noble intentions have been literally smashed to rubble. Buñuel's sprightly prankish spirit conceals a film that's bleak and cynical, a wrung-out comedy in the way that Little Murders is a comedy; when a beggar says at the climax, "Don't worry, miss. We're all decent folk," it's meant as an ironic joke, but the laughter it provokes is hollow and choking. Satire doesn't get much more slashing than this.

Grade: B+


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