Gregório Gruber (Journal de Resenhas)


Commentary on Luis Buñuel's film

“Think of the night and the tomb-cold that reign in this universe of the damned!” (Brecht, The Threepenny Opera).

VIEW Viridiana it is an unusual and shocking experience. I saw unfold before my eyes a plot worthy of the most vulgar Mexican drama, conveyed by extremely rudimentary, albeit beautiful, images.

In mass entertainment such as the Mexican drama, the telenovela and the photo-novela, one can discern a common objective which is their function. They aim to facilitate evasion, that is, to satisfy the need for fiction without running the risk of disturbing consumers by presenting insoluble contradictions that force them to reflect on the established order and the values ​​that guarantee it.

In them there are thousands of pure girls who want to be nuns, whom the rich uncle tries to rape and then commit suicide, before which the pure girl abandons everything to dedicate herself to the poor, becoming a kind of lay nun . As a rule, she thus redeems her responsibility for suicide, later marrying her cousin, a boy with a wanton life who regenerates himself by the example of his little cousin.

Good winners, bad ones punished – the intriguing maid or the cousin's ex-lover who slanders the pure girl – nothing was called into question: there is no answer because there was no question. No one has asked what kind of world this is in which a beautiful and healthy girl chooses the denial of the world as her destiny, shutting herself up in a convent; where a small rural lord, not even very rich or powerful, has rights of life and death; where almsgiving is the only possible contact between those who have and those who don't; in which the poor cultivate the feelings of rich people – which is why they are called noble feelings – such as gratitude, hospitality, friendship.

Buñuel's film has a sister plot to the photonovela, the telenovela and the Mexican drama: but a misguided brother. On the contrary, it is anti-evasion. It is the same plot taken to its ultimate consequences, necessarily general degradation. Only those who want to believe in miracles can swallow redemption through charity (mutual redemption of the pure girl and the poor people), marriage with a regenerated cousin, the perpetual gratitude of those protected.

Contact with the world, for those who deny the world, is even degrading: there is a need in Viridiana's trajectory, from the convent, from violence to violence, to the game of “tute” by three, Viridiana being lowered to the moral level of her cousin and to the social level of the employee. Thus, Viridiana, in the odor of sanctity, causes her uncle to commit suicide; she is more than a murderer: she condemns her uncle to eternal damnation, since there is no salvation for suicides. The pure girl is an instrument of the Devil.

All the horror of this world is embodied in beggars. This is what the images in the film insistently show us. Viridiana is beautiful, her uncle is a landlord, her cousin is handsome, the maid has the elegance of correctness: beggars are disgusting. In appearance, they are filthy, mutilated, toothless, crooked. They harbor the worst feelings: they are distrustful, ungrateful, selfish, angry, promiscuous. These are not supportive even in cancer: they only want the benefits for themselves, they do not learn the exercise of charity, they expel the leper.

And even – it's the height of it! – they covet the luxury of the gentlemen, they also want to eat in a lace tablecloth, in crystals and silverware. They are not satisfied with having food, which is no small feat for those who are hungry; they want food with the refinements of those who are not hungry. They have already lost all humanity. They are prey animals, a little party on the sly is not enough for them, they want to destroy everything. The crescendo of vileness culminates in the attempt to rape the protector, so naive, so ignorant of the world.

It is difficult to imagine a more complete demystification of the conventional plot, a dramatic film (or photo-novela or telenovela) that is more topsy-turvy. The typical characters are there, the typical intricacies of the plot too: but what the film shows us is the opposite. Buñuel – not patiently, but impetuously – demystifies family ties, Christian charity, the etiquette of relations between classes, good feelings. He strips these values ​​of any need, rather he places them like diaphanous mantles to cover up the dunghill, which stinks.

Buñuel proceeds from the obvious. The telenovela plot is constituted, in the viewer's eyes, through metaphorical images that apparently belittle their intelligence quotient. An obvious metaphor is followed by another obvious metaphor; as if that were not enough, the dialogue corroborates the image. The spectator, distraught, sees the cousin free the dog, sees another wagon pass by with another dog trapped, sees (and hears) the cousin scold Viridiana for protecting a bunch of beggars when the world is full of them.

Perplexed, the viewer sees the girl jump rope at the beginning, then sees her uncle hanged from the rope, sees the girl jump rope again, sees the rope serve as a belt for the beggar, sees Viridiana's hand cling to the handle of the rope at the time of the rape. (General public exclamation: “Oh no!”). The spectator, in the greatest confusion, watches incredible things of questionable taste: he sees Viridiana's self-flagellating preparations, he sees his uncle putting on the dead woman's shoe, he sees Viridiana spreading ashes on her uncle's bed, he sees the terrible Holy Supper and the commemorative portrait , sees the girl take the crown of thorns from the fire, obsessively sees the feet to the detriment of the face. What to do? To be indignant, or to think that it is a valid experience; there is no other way out.

Sensitivity trained in the subtleties of modern cinema naturally rebels. Nothing is more foreign to the interiorization, discretion, intellectual refinement of the best cinema today. I remember that the shot of the bird in the cage while the industrialist tries to seduce the writer was very badly seen, because of its obviousness. At night, by Antonioni. It is clear that this is an inconsistency, as Antonioni's narration does not resort to this more direct and primary metaphor, once so common (in Stroheim's films, for example). When then the viewer is saturated to the point of nausea by obvious images narrating unusual and inelegant things, the smell of obsolete blasphemy becomes unbearable. In a similar situation the reader of the new Roman who reads Henry Miller for the first time. The sensation is really unpleasant and has also been experienced by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, on another occasion and for another purpose: “Life is fat, oily, deadly, surreptitious”.

Buñuel is in fact out of the vein followed by the cinema of our time (I mean the good cinema) and can only cause strangeness. Viridiana it is a marginal film, both in matter and in the narrative processes. But what magnificent marginality! And who can say if Buñuel does not follow a recessive line, but fundamental for the cinema of the future, in a fruitful opposition to the sometimes rarefied atmosphere of the great contemporary films? Buñuel, the obvious one, pulverizes the world with violence and destructive fury.

It remains to be seen whether this film says that we are all screwed up or that we are all screwed up. If the Apocalypse created by Buñuel is theological or cultural. Whether human nature is placed there metaphysically or historically. In a word, whether the dunghill stinks because all dunghills stink, or whether the dunghill stinks because it has rotted. That is the question.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of cats bag (Two Cities).


Spain / Mexico, 1961, 90 minutes
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
Cast: Silvia Pinal, Victoria Zinny, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal

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