Viridiana is a 1961 Spanish-Mexican motion picture. After it won award at the Cannes Film Festival, the authorities banned the film in Spain.

Viridiana, a young nun about to take her final vows, pays a visit to her widowed uncle, Don Jaime, at the request of her Mother Superior. At his mansion, her uncle realized that she looks like his deceased wife and tried to make viridiana his wife.

Luis Buñuel is known for his techniques in film especially in the area of sound and mise en scene, in which many critics like Micheal Atkinson has praised in his own words, “visually Spartan and yet spasming with bouts of the irrational.”


His visual style can be described as a picture that delivers its purpose and message without lavish or elaborate sets, simply through the defining elements of his film. Like in the following scene where Viridiana is drugged, Buñuel simply framed the scene to seem more real and to allow his audience to get closer in proximity and evoke more sincere emotions as they follow Don’s motives.


Viridiana was drugged.

Viridiana was drugged.

Wanted to rape her but could not bring himself to do it.

Wanted to rape her but could not bring himself to do it.

After being told that she was deflowered by Don, she had her doubts and soon Don admitted that he could not bring himself to rape her. With no forgiveness from viridiana, he hangs himself, leaving the house to her and his son, Jorge.

As one can observe from this picture, the situation is painted extremely straightforward with barely any prop or unnatural placement of them to distract the audience from the main action and story and that is what Buñuel is known for.


“I have never liked refabricated cinematographic beauty, which very often makes one forget what the film wants to tell, and which personally, does not move me.” – Luis Buñuel


Buñuel also had a period of time where music played a huge part in his earlier films. Buñuel used music as a platform to establish understanding between the viewers and what he is trying to show in that particular scene. Despite his efforts, many critics have exclaimed about the “nagging inappropriateness” of the scores particularly in Las Hurdes. With this, over the years Buñuel’s use of this technique faltered and lessened in frequency, but he still employed this out of place music in Viridiana for musical juxtaposition to emphasize irony. Particular instances Buñuel used this technique in viridiana would be in the opening and scenes like this one below when Viridiana is served her tea.

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 12.10.11 PM

Don hanged himself.

Don hanged himself.

Feeling guilty, she brought in beggars to stay in the yard so as to atone for her sins but it did not go the way she wanted when they started to lose control and caused chaos in the house.

Portrays a scene similar to the Lord's supper.

Portrays a scene similar to the Lord’s supper.

The ending was thought to be provocative because it suggested a ménage à trois (see below) between Jorge, Viridiana and the housekeeper.

Ménage à trois (not threesome), its 3 person connected by sexual relations.

Ménage à trois (not threesome), its 3 person connected by sexual relations.


Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel shot Viridiana in the early months of 1961, in his native Spain. It was the first film he had made there since his departure for the United States and Mexico in 1939. This film was considered as a form of revenge as Catholicism and Christianity as Viridiana goes against what Bible teachings. It was banned in Spain after it won an award because many locals were under the same religion. When asked whether the film was blaspheme, Buñuel said, with characteristic offhand wit, “I didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am.”

Being typical Bunuel, the film was expected to mock religion, and in this film, specifically Christianity and Catholicism.  The film was not welcomed when it first shown in the cinemas and it somehow gained him an infamous reputation, as it was his first film done in Spain after being returning from exile in Mexico.

The film has caused many protests, especially from the Vatican as seen in articles from I’Osservatore Romano. Bunuel mentioned that the film was indeed created to mock the religion and he wanted the audience to watch films for its reality and not just sheer fantasy. Viridiana depicts the hardship and irony in real life and that is what Bunuel wants his audience to watch.

He uses what people believed in and turned it into reality. It defines that in reality, no good can get good. Even if its an act of kindness or faith, the return might be the opposite of what they say, kindness begets kindness. There are many instances in the story where he portrayed such small acts.

The dog scene

The dog scene

The dog scene

The dog scene

In this scene, Don’s son, Jorge saw a cart vehicle with a dog tied under it. The dog cannot rest unless the cart stops. Jorge asked the owner to unleash the dog since it would be tired. The owner would not conform and only when Jorge buys the dog did he unleashed it. However, after Jorge leaves with the dog, the scene pans to another cart with the same situation as the first.

Luis Buñuel expressed his thoughts through this scene by diegesis that kindness does not necessarily begets kindness for there are always similar situations. You can save one but how many more can you actually save?


Viridiana had a mixture of emotions and it does not explicitly put it out on screen but through expressions and the clever use of shadows. In the beginning of the film, when Don wanted to rape Viridiana when she was unconscious, the shot cleverly captured Don’s shadow, alone and slouched.

Notice the shadow of Don on the wall

Notice the shadow of Don on the wall

“The film is deliberate and controlled. It is funny in that way where you rarely laugh aloud but expand in mental amusement.” That is how Roger Ebert described Bunuel’s Viridiana. It is true as Bunuel is known to be a satirist and looking at the aforementioned scene. Bunuel cleverly pulls it off as he makes his audiences think of what would happen next.  Don’ situation and feelings were expressed through the lone shadow and his posture. He wants to, but he cannot bring himself to rape Virdiana.

Decisions are an important factor to the film as the decision made by the character ultimately affects the outcome and Viridiana works on this factor effectively through Bunuel’s meticulously planned shots.

The film also ended with somewhat a cliffhanger. Emotions are being conveyed not through crying or laughing but Luis Buñuel ability to convey it through the atmosphere.

List of references:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viridiana

2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055601/

3. The dog scene


4. http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/423-viridiana-the-human-comedy

About the author: Shannen is a lover of films especially musicals and yearns to be in one someday. She might not sing, she might not dance but what for? There’s IMAGINATION~


3 thoughts on “Viridiana (1961)

  1. Hi Shannen, there isn’t much aesthetic significance in your critical essay. This essay seems more like a synopsis than a critical essay. You could try reading up on other reviews or essays done on this film and further improve it. (:

  2. Hi Shannen,

    I agree with Edna and there isn’t much aesthetic significance in this particular essay. However, I do like the fact that you go in details on telling the story which I thought it would be great if you elaborate more on the various aspects on the significance of the film.

    I added in a part where the film gets slammed by the Vatican (accounting for the Critics and perhaps Cultural significance) which I thought was quite significant for the Spanish culture as Bunuel just returned back from Mexico and he created another film that sparked controversy with the public.


  3. Hi Shannen!

    I thought you left out a lot on the aesthetic significance like the other two comments have pointed out; Luis_Buñuel was quite known for his film style (mise en scene and sound) which I thought you could’ve added into your essay to lessen the feel of it being similar to a synopsis. 🙂

    I used the same pictures you posted and edited, I hope my edits helped you improve your essay in some way! Thank you.

    Germaine 😀

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