Luis Bunuel is inarguably the father of surrealistic cinema. He created fantastical universes while addressing extremely controversial topics in a very tongue-and-cheek manner. One example is the act of prostitution in the 1967 classic “Belle de Jour”. I feel as if there is also a high level of discomfort that develops while watching his films towards and the realistic and distasteful character development that often occurs. “Viridiana” from 1961 is no exception, exploring the peculiarities of the human species through irony and distress.
The eponymous main character, played by Silvia Pinal, is about to take her vows as a new nun when word arrives to the convent that her sole living relative, the wealthy uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), is quite ill. Forced to visit him, he is immediately drawn to her identical resemblance to his late wife. In Bunuel style, Don Jaime wishes to marry his chaste niece and dresses her in his late wife’s wedding gown. From this highly bizarre and disturbing proposal emerges concern for incest, rape, and sexual misadventure. Viridiana’s decision later in the film to convert part of a large home into a homeless shelter and to also provide these disadvantaged individuals with work is shockingly met with disdain. Hence, her once youthful vision of the world is tarnished by the harsh reality of human nature.
Viridiana’s loss of innocence is a journey for which all humans embark. Vanity, deception, disrespect, and hypocrisy sadly reveal themselves on a daily basis in many adult life choices. Bunuel uses religious artistry in this film as satire, further highlighting these aforementioned unfortunate qualities and exploitation by those considered trustworthy. Myths, greed, and conceit are some factors hindering charitable involvement and donations, also eroding one’s purity. These elements can considerably jade our judgments as we become adults ourselves, and we thus adopt some of these miserable behaviours and traits by osmosis. It is therefore imperative that we remain cognizant of these misgivings. We must critically think about the motivation behind others’ regretful choices, and consequentially adopt values consistent with good-heartedness and love for fellow man.
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