Director Luis Buñuel / 1961 / Spain

The 1961 Cannes Festival Jury decided to award the Grand Prix jointly to Henri Colpi's Une Aussi Longue Absence and Bunuel's Viridiana. Thus the festival ended in a blaze of controversy, with this film, which puzzled, excited and distressed in equal proportions. Prefaced by credit titles which are accompanied by the "Hallelujah" chorus, the film traces the brutal experiences undergone by a young novice; these include an unsuccessful seduction by her fetishist uncle, and involvement with a gang of beggars whom she cares for as an act of mercy. It is a film packed with erotic and blasphemous symbolism — one recalls the dream-like scenes with the uncle, and the prayer meeting which is cross cut with a building demolition — but it is a film with immense overall control and without the waywardness of some of the director's Mexican work. The beggars provide its most characteristic sequences, culminating in a wild orgy of destruction in the uncle's house and framed into a pose of The Last Supper. The film ends with the novice, now isolated and shocked into submissiveness, settling down to an apparently endless game of cards with another potential seducer. Unlike the striking ambiguity of the last scene of Nazarin, everything is now reduced to dust and ashes. The incredible thing about Viridiana is that it was made in the country with the most rigid censorship in the Western world. Bunuel's anguished view of a Catholic and medieval-dominated Society becomes, in this film, a ruthless denunciation of the social and religious values in Franco's Spain. The director, writing about the film, comments, "Octavia Praz says, 'But that a man in chains should shut his eyes, the world would explode'.. And I could add 'But that the white eyelid of the screen reflect its proper light, the Universe would go up in flames'. But for the moment we can sleep in peace: the light of the Cinema is conveniently dosified and shackled." But Viridiana would appear to nullify this statement.

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