Melbourne Cinematheque 14/9/11: Luis Bunuel

14 Sep

By Eleanor Colla

Another one week retrospective at Cinematheque, and another one not to miss.

On Wednesday [Today -Ed!] three films by Luis Bunuel are being screened: Viridiana (1961), Un Chien Andalou (1929) and Nazarin (1959). Bunuel is perhaps most famed for his co-directing (with Salvador Dali) of Un Chien Andalou, hailed as one of the key films to emerge from the surrealist movement. Whilst Viridiana and Nazarin do not contain such strong surrealist elements as Un Chien Andalou both are filled with Bunuel’s take on religion, another major theme throughout his work.

Viridiana is a young, soon-to-be nun (played by Silvia Pinal) who is given leave from her convent to visit her uncle Don Jamie (Fernando Ray) at his dilapidated estate. Viridiana’s looks remind her uncle of his deceased wife and whilst he is unable to convince her to stay and marry him events unfold that force Viridiana to give up her future at the convent and instead run the estate with her cousin Jorge, Jamie’s son. Through this situation Bunuel is able to comment on the teachings of the church in the real world, using Virdiana’s ‘rescuing’ of the poor around the estate and their eventual inability to conform to her teachings as an attack of the teachings of the church. Upon release, the film was deemed blasphemous by the Vatican, the ending was changed by the Spanish board of censors because of its illusion to a ménage a trios, and it went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes despite the Franco regime trying to have the film banned.

Nazarin has the same similar religious themes at Virdiana, following the life of the extremely pious Padre Nazario (Francisco Rabal) who unwittingly wreaks havoc in his attempt to do God’s work. Giving away nearly all of his material possessions and not passing judgement, but rather helping a prostitute being accused of murder, merely drives Nazario from his village where he takes to roaming the countryside for work and food. Despite still continuing to live by the church, Nazario finds himself imprisoned and for the first time questioning the intervention of God in his life. Filmed with just enough ambiguity to be endorsed by the Catholic Church (and going on to win the International Catholic Cinema Office award), Nazarin actually serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the church’s teachings.

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