(director/writer: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: Julio Alejandro/Juan Buñuel/from the novel Halma by Benito Pérez Galdós; cinematographer: Jose Fernandez Aguayo; editor: Pedro del Rey; music: Gustavo Pittaluga; cast: Silvia Pinal (Viridiana), Fernando Rey (Don Jaime), Francisco Rabal (Jorge), Margarita Lozano (Ramona), Teresa Rabal (Rita), José Calvo (Beggar), Victoria Zinny, (Lucia); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gustavo Alatriste; Kingsley-International Pictures; 1961-Spain/Mexico-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“It’s another of Buñuel’s controversial films that is an indictment of organized religion.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Controversial filmmaker Luis Buñuel returns to his native Spain from his exile in Mexico for the first time since 1938 to make a film co-produced by Spain and Mexico (it was shot in Spain and financed by Franco’s regime, who later tried to burn all the prints but couldn’t get their hands on the ones sent to France). It’s another of Buñuel’s controversial films that is an indictment of organized religion. After the film’s ending was changed by the Spanish censors (instead of the heroine entering the bedroom of her cousin, she plays cards with him and his maid), it was still banned in Spain (too suggestive of a ménage á trois) and later on in Italy through the efforts of the Vatican. It’s memorable for its unforgettable climactic scene, a black parody of the Last Supper that’s filmed with a record player blaring out Handel’s Messiah as invited paupers, the mentally disturbed and criminals have an unauthorized orgy in the main house of a wealthy estate. It’s the director at his sharpest wit, most sacrilegious, most amusing, and his most unrelenting subversive attack on religion as something that’s useless. It’s a masterpiece that still resonates after all these years as a powerful philosophical film challenging the church’s corrupt ideology.

It stars Mexican actress Silvia Pinal as Viridiana. She’s an idealistic and kindly novice in a convent about to be inducted as a nun when her rich uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), a supporter of the church, invites her to visit his country estate for a few days. The Mother Superior breaks the rules for such a visit so as not to disappoint their generous church benefactor, even though Viridiana is not anxious to visit him. Don Jaime is a lonely man whose wife died of a heart attack on their wedding night. Viridiana has aroused in him the passion he had for his wife and he tries to convince her to live with him in the house forever. When she not only refuses but prepares to go back to the convent the next day, Don Jaime asks as an innocent favor that she wear for the evening his wife’s white wedding dress and then has his obedient servant Ramona (Margarita Lozano) drug her drink. In bed, Don Jaime kisses the unconscious woman’s breasts and tells her the next morning that he had intercourse with her that night. The shell-shocked Viridiana gives uncle a hard look of despair and is about to return to the convent anyway, when she learns Don Jaime hanged himself and she inherited the farm house on the estate while the master’s son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal), inherited the main house and the grounds. Jorge arrives with his girlfriend Lucia and plans on making the estate viable as a money-earning farm. But Lucia leaves when she sees her man has the hots for the would-be nun. Viridiana opens up her estate to a group of paupers, who think she has a heart of gold but is nutty. The beggars turn out to be a disagreeable and vile lot who take advantage of her innocence and pay back her Christian charity with ingratitude and cruelty. At their upsetting reenactment of Da Vinci’s Last Supper they almost rape her, until a bound Jorge gives one of the derelicts money to kill the would-be rapist beggar. The next day looking at herself in the mirror, the disillusioned Viridiana gives up her quest for selfless sainthood and to take on the burden of single-handedly trying to end poverty, and, according to Buñuel, is better off returning to the secular world as a disgraced woman than living a lie as a hypocritical Christian who is disconnected from the masses.

Viridiana won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.