A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)

TCM this month has been running a series of movies condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, with commentary by Sister Rose Pacatte. Sister Rose doesn't have a lot of screen presence, but she does a good job of explaining why the Legion in its heyday found the movies objectionable -- and suggesting why they really aren't. It's hard to believe today that Viridiana, with its heavily moral tone, was once considered blasphemous, but ours is a day when anything sacred is routinely held up for scrutiny. It's the first work of Buñel's greatest period as writer-director, and while it doesn't quite rise to the exalted standard of Belle de Jour (1967) or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), it wrangles effectively with their topics, including middle-class morality and the repressive element of Catholicism. Silvia Pinel gives the title role credibility, moving from naïveté through disillusionment to a final note of ambiguity: Has Viridiana truly fallen from the grace she has so ardently sought? The film is also a triumph of casting, not only in the key roles of Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), Viridiana's lecherous, tormented uncle, and Jorge (Francisco Rabal), his equally lecherous but profoundly untormented bastard son, but also Margarita Lozano as Ramona, Don Jaime's and later Jorge's maid-mistress, and Teresa Rabal as Rita, Ramona's sly, sneaky daughter, And then there's the gallery of grotesques, the beggars whom Viridiana naively takes in and tries to care for. Is there a more horrifying scene than the one that culminates in Buñuel's famous parody of Leonardo's The Last Supper, in which the beggars nearly destroy Don Jaime's house, which Jorge is trying to restore? It can be argued that the avaricious Jorge gets what's coming to him, of course, but Buñuel is never as simplistic as that, viz., the deep ambiguity of the closing scene in which the virtuous Viridiana has let down her hair and forms a threesome -- at the card table but where else? -- with Jorge and Ramona.