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The Criterion Collection presents
Viridiana (1961)

"I had to force you. It was the only way to hold you in my arms."
- Don Jaime (Fernando Rey)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 30, 2006

Stars: Silvia Pinal, Francisco Rabal, Fernando Rey
Other Stars: Jose Calvo, Margarita Lozano, Jose Manuel Martin, Victoria Zinny, Teresita Rabal
Director: Luis Buñuel

Manufacturer: Criterion Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material, attempted rape, violence)
Run Time: 01h:31m:07s
Release Date: May 23, 2006
UPC: 037429212622
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-C- B

DVD Review

Viridiana remains one of Luis Buñuel's most controversial and notorious films, even though it's not as steeped in surrealism as some of his other pictures. Nonetheless, it was banned in Spain for many years, condemned by the Catholic Church and ordered to be destroyed. Happily, Francisco Franco's mission to eliminate this motion picture from the face of the earth failed, thanks to dedicated participants who buried one print and smuggled another out of the country. The result still holds up as a bitter satire of religion and ironic comment on human relations.

Young Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a novice in a Spanish convent who reluctantly goes to visit her dying uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey). Don Jaime isn't quite as sick as he makes out, however, having lured Viridiana home to possess her himself. After drugging her and attempting to force himself on his niece, Don Jaime has a bitter repentance and hangs himself. The estate passes to Viridiana and her cousin Jorge (Francisco Rabal), who has designs on her himself. Leaving the convent, Viridiana decides to dedicate herself to misguided Christian charity, inviting a horde of beggars into the mansion to relieve their lot in life, with disastrous consequences.

The two halves of the film seem hardly related at first glance; the first half is intensely personal in its fiery sensuality. Everyone is spying on everyone else, as servant Ramona (Margarita Lozano) and little Rita (Teresita Rabal) watch voyeuristically upon Viridiana, almost as much as does Don Jaime as he looks longingly on her legs (or more precisely her feet) in a fetishistic frenzy. Don Jaime's problems run even deeper, however, since he's also obsessed with his wife, who died of a heart attack on their wedding night, apparently without consummation. Caressing her bridal gown years later, Don Jaime enacts a bizarre ritual as he convinces Viridiana to dress up in the gown, preparatory to drugging her. It's completely twisted and leaves little doubt of his complete lunacy, even though it doesn't seem to affect Viridiana too deeply until he tells her falsely that he raped her.

Viridiana's naïveté is the uniting theme that ties the first part to its diverse and more public second half. Her childlike belief in people leads her to some extremely dubious conclusions, trusting her teachings from the church without any particular knowledge of human nature in the flesh as opposed to the ideal. That makes her vulnerable to the depravities of the beggars, and it's with the beggar's banquet that Buñuel really lets out all of the stops. It's a chaotic, vicious bacchanal, designed to disgust and appall in the grotesqueries on display. The climax is a lewd reenactment of da Vinci's Last Supper, which apparently was what really set the Vatican off the deep end about this picture. The director apparently doesn't have much use for the notion of charity, at least on a personal basis, since in his view it's just treated with contempt by the recipient and gets the giver into trouble.

One fascinating thread follows through the film: little Rita's jump rope. We first see it being used properly, near the very beginning, but it soon takes on a sinister aspect as Don Jaime, like Buñuel, becomes fascinated with the phallic handles. After his transgressions, he turns to the jump rope to hang himself. In the second half, the jump rope appears again, this time in the hands of the beggars as they too attempt to rape Viridiana. The association of sex, violence and death with a child's toy is highly disturbing on a subconscious level, making it a particularly potent symbol.

There isn't really any of Buñuel's trademark surrealism here; the closest the film comes is an outlandish sleepwalking sequence where Viridiana fills Don Jaime's bed with ashes from the fireplace, apparently as a subconscious effort to bring him to repentance. Just as is the case with the beggars, however, her intentions are either misunderstood or disregarded, and Don Jaime's lusts just end up even more inflamed. Viridiana is something of a complete innocent like Candide, unable to cope in the world outside of the convent. Doubling the impact is that Viridiana even at the end hardly seems aware of her plight, falling into her cousin's trap without a whimper.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion finally gets with the program, rendering a 1.66:1 frame with an anamorphic transfer. Despite the abuse the film has taken on over the years, it's in pretty good shape aside from some slight jitter during the opening titles. The greyscale is excellent and detail and texture are very nice indeed. There's some minor edge enhancement visible at times, but it's fairly trivial. The sheen of the satin bridal gown is quite beautiful, underlining the remarkable visual.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 Spanish mono is a bit dodgy, with a fair amount of noise present throughout. The music is rather tinny, though since much of it is source music that may be intentional in effect. It's passable but nothing more.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The DVD includes several valuable extras. A 32-page booklet includes a substantial essay by Michael Wood, as well as an interiew with Buñuel, who denies that much of the film is actually intentional. Further background is offered in recent interview featurettes with star Silvia Pinal (14m:25s) and author Richard Porton (12m:41s). These are informative and give a good window onto the director's thoughts. There is also a 1964 French television program, Cinéastes de notre temps (37m:24s), which takes a substantial look at Buñuel's early career. It has a fair number of clips, though there are also some frustrating omissions. Most valuable is the interview footage with the cryptic director, who offers few hints but is nonetheless entertaining at all times. Finally, there's the original US trailer for the film. A commentary would have been nice but this is a substantial package even in its absence.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A disturbing and viciously funny satire by Buñuel, with an excellent transfer and plenty of good extras.


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