Emilio G. Riera
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616
Viridiana is a work of genius, and as such has accomplished much more than it set out to. In it Buñuel offers his audience a splendid opportunity for exploring his creative universe and finding enrichment in a fresh point of view, a new outlook on reality….
Buñuel is not a believer to be overlooked. He obviously believes in the miraculous or, rather, in the liberating force of the irrational and in the poetry of instinct. Religion, however, as commonly understood, is paradoxically, merely an attempt to rationalize the miraculous…. This is the function of dogma. And of one thing I am certain—Buñuel is utterly free of dogmatism. He likewise instinctively opposes a secular form of rationalism which endows man with the ability to attain absolute knowledge….
On the other hand, Buñuel is not an agnostic. Like any true artist, he explores the furthest stretches of reality, which does not necessarily mean that he refutes the validity of objective, scientific knowledge…. Precisely because he extracts the entire substance of his art from the miraculous and the irrational indicates that he is antidogmatic and, therefore, an atheist….
Because Buñuel is an atheist, for that very reason he is not really blasphemous. His attitude is devoid of all diabolism. Not once does this movie-maker deride or insult God, which would be tantamount to acknowledging His existence. Buñuel never discusses God. What he discusses is man's conception of God. (p. 76)
The Buñuelian trinity of eroticism—religion—death, a constant theme in his films is conceivable only within the specific limits of Catholicism and, more concretely, of Spanish Catholicism. Viridiana has confirmed what we might have always suspected: Buñuel, the apotheosis of anti-patriotism, has never ceased being profoundly Spanish….
Buñuel's Spanishness explains to a great extent the persistence of the religious theme in his films. Spain has never completely abandoned the Inquisitorial spirit which couples the notion of sin with physical chastisement. Buñuel's films depict carnal flagellation and laceration and how it leads to the wild extremes of abnormal eroticism, masochism and fetishism….
[The elderly Spanish gentleman in Viridiana] is representative of the spirit of Spanish Catholicism, which has been nurtured on the pursuit of death, due to the impossibility of attaining the absolute in life. The quest for the absolute is his distinctive trait, as it is Viridiana's, Nazarin's, and as it is likewise prominent in El and in Ensayo de un Crimen. It is the distinctive trait of poets.
In portraying each of his characters, their confrontation with reality and their personal inadequacy, Buñuel shows in each instance the failure of old Spanish dogmatism. There is here an unmistakable connection with a long literary tradition ("Don Quixote", the picaresque novel, Quevedo and Galdos) and therefore any attempt to regard Viridiana as merely a comment on Spain's present-day political and social situation is obviously too facile an interpretation. Actually, the film reflects a perennial picture of Spain (although, I hope, not of its future)….
[All] of Buñuel's work reveals a moral position towards a society to which, wittingly or unwittingly, he belongs, and which plays a determining role in his life. Viridiana's extraordinary richness and density is a result of its having been filmed in Spain which means that it is not lacking in the essence of Spanishness and concrete significance for Buñuel. (p. 81)
[Unlike] Buñuel's previous films, Viridiana has the great advantage in that there can be no confusion between the ambiguity of the physical reality and any ambiguity in its creator's moral position. (p. 82)
Emilio G. Riera, "'Viridiana'," translated by Toby Talbot, in Film Culture (copyright 1962 by Film Culture), No. 24, Spring, 1962, pp. 76, 81-2.