Luis Buñuel Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

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Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first sight (and with hindsight too, as the films have reached us in the wrong order), Nazarin … looks simply like a more ambiguous version of Viridiana. (p. 194)

The ambiguity lies in the fact that Buñuel refuses either to approve or condemn his hero, with the result that the film can be read in two different ways. Either we must take in that Nazarin is a fool and his saintliness futile and absurd, or else that his perseverance in the face of adversity is a living proof that faith is its own justification and reward, and the things of the spirit better and stronger than those of the flesh. Taken singly neither of these readings is satisfactory…. [If] Nazarin is to be condemned, who is to be saved? If he is wrong, who on earth is right? If he is futile, then what on earth is effective? The Revolution? Possibly, but Buñuel does not say so. In fact he offers no answer at all, even partial. Just a portrait of a sympathetic but other-worldly priest, and a fresco of a brutal but undeniably authentic world. We have no choice, therefore, but to accept both incompatible readings simultaneously, as hypothesis and antithesis, and mediate, for what it's worth, our own synthesis to the problem.

This is the answer, or substitute for an answer, that Brecht provides at the end of The Good Woman of Setzuan—"the curtains closed and all the questions open"—and more or less the same as that in Viridiana, where at the end Viridiana sits down to play cards with Jorge and Ramona, and the problem is uneasily shelved for the duration. But Brecht did believe that solutions were possible, and Buñuel in Viridiana left the audience in no doubt of his hatred for his heroine and all she stood for. In Nazarin however the basic moral ambiguity, Nazarin contra mundum, is not intended to lead to a solution, but is an end in itself. Buñuel's dialectic is all antithesis here, and his favourite weapon, beside physical shock, is paradox. (pp. 194-95)

Somewhere, I feel, Buñuel does see a solution. But it is an imaginary possibility which impresses itself on the film only by...

(The entire section is 548 words.)