! Critic Judy Stone
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"Viridiana" is Luis Bunuel's most powerful and disturbing argument against the self-deception and harm done by those who are driven toward sanctity and "purity." It stands for the unsentimental understanding and acceptance of all that life offers, whether it be lust or honest recognition of the monsters that society has made of men. Developed from an image Bunuel had of a young woman drugged by an older man, "Viridiana" is the story of a beautiful young novice (Sylvia Pinal). The Mother Superior suggests that Viridiana see her uncle before taking her final vows. Filled with foreboding, yet compliant, she travels to the estate where her uncle lives with his maid and her daughter. The uncle, whose wife had died on her wedding night before the marriage was consummated, has remained faithful to his marriage vows but becomes aroused by trying on his wife's wedding garments. Viridiana arrives with all her religious paraphernalia — a heavy cross, a stone, a hammer, nails, and a crown of thorns — but she is uneasy because everything on the farm conspires to remind her that she is a woman. The uncle (Fernando Rey, masterfully conflicted ) tries to convince her to stay with him, but she refuses. Then he asks her to try on his wife's wedding gown, drugs her with the assistance of the servant and carries Viridiana to his bed. Although he restrains himself from raping her, he implies his knowledge of her to keep her from leaving.

Fearful and shattered, the young girl runs off, but as she is about to board a bus, the authorities tell her that her uncle has committed suicide. Convinced that she has been corrupted, but determined to live as a good Christian nonetheless, she returns to run the estate with her uncle's illegitimate son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) who goes about the business of administering the farm and curiously looks on as Viridiana gathers up beggars and cripples, a leper and a blind man to live there also. They humor her because they think she is crazy. In a shocking scene, they stage a macabre orgy that comes to a climax when one woman poses them behind the table and they fall drunkenly into the positions of The Last Supper as Mozart's Requiem plays on.

Viridiana returns to this vast shambles and is attacked and nearly raped when she is saved by Jorge. Now completely lost, but violently wrenched back into life, the final scene shows Viridiana seeking out Jorge and the maid. The three of them play a game of cards together with rock 'n' roll music in the background as Jorge says, "I knew that one day we would all play a little game together." (The original ending had Viridiana going to Jorge's room while the maid peered through the keyhole.)

When the film burst like a bombshell at the Cannes Film Festival, a Dominican priest wrote to L'Observatore Romano that it was incredible for the festival to show such a sacrilige against religion. Franco promptly prohibited it from being shown in Spain although it was a Spanish entry. The evolution of his freest film since L'Age d'Or the new production also reflected the change in Bunuel: "Once upon a time when I was offered the consecrated wafer I would spit on it; now I simply say, 'I couldn't care less.'"

Excerpted from an interview with Bunuel in "Eye on the World."