As is the case with many of Criterion’s releases, Viridiana is a film that was quite controversial upon its original release, and to some extent, still is today. The film’s namesake is a young woman who is just a week away from taking part in the investiture ceremony, her convent receives a letter from her Uncle, who sends his regrets that he will be unable to attend the event. The convent’s Mother Superior sends Viridiana to see this Uncle, and that’s where the trouble begins.
The Uncle is a single ol… man who lives in self-imposed isolation, save for a servant and the servants daughter. Once Viridiana arrives at his estate, she discovers that the Uncle has some plans for her that will certainly not agree with her faith. While most films see this as enough of a plot to complete a film, this setup is just the tip of the iceberg here.
I don’t want to ruin the plot for those of you that will pick this film up, but I can say that this is a film that explores the meaning of faith in a brilliant and fascinating new way. People often times complain that they have a problem making Christianity “real”; they are unable to read the ancient manuscript and apply them to modern life. This is a fill that ingeniously takes the constructs of Christianity and examines them in a very real and modern way. That is not to say that this is a film about people who always make the right choices, however. In fact, though Viridiana has a strong desire to do the right thing, she exhibits many of the struggles and frustrations that many of us face on a daily basis.
When it comes to classic film’s audio track, the quality is only as good as the source elements that are available. As Criterion almost always presents classic foreign films, they frequently have a problem with their audio and video elements. As a result, much time and effort goes into restoring these films before they hit DVD. While it is clear that plenty of work went into this process, the results still come across as mixed. There are none of those “pops” or “hissing” problems that show up so often on films of this age However, the overall quality lacks a sense of realism. The audio exists only to convey the bare minimum of information, without any emotional content. Viewers can hear the dialog fairly well, and music is presented when it is actually being played within the scene, but there is no evidence of a true “score” to speak of.
The video quality varies somewhat. The title sequence of the film actually looks quite poor. The image doesn’t go all the way out to the sides of the screen, there are problems with streaking and flashes, as well as the expected issues with dust and grain. Once the film gets underway, however, the quality is improved somewhat. By about the 30 minute mark, the quality has improved even more, and it is really quite clean and clear from that point on. I am sure that the elements that they were able to find for the first reel or two were not in the best condition, and they were cleaned up as much as possible, but the results were still sub-par. If you are bothered by the poor image quality during the first portion of the disc, be patient… I promise that it will improve.
As always, Criterion has provided the viewer with a detailed and unique stable of special features to accompany the film. In addition to the film’s original theatrical trailer (which is surprising to find in and of itself), they have also included an essay on the film by film historian Michael Wood. This essay gives some details on the filmmaker and the film’s background, as well as making some insightful comments on the themes of the film itself. Also included in the extensive 28-page booklet is a reprint of an interview with Bunuel that was originally printed in the book Objects of Desire: Conversations with Luis Bunuel.
On the disc, Criterion has included an all new interview with actress Silvia Pinal (Viridiana), as well as one conducted in August of 2005 with Richard Porton, author of Cineaste magazine. While Pinal discusses her work on the film, Porton takes a look at the film from a more objective angle. Both are very interesting interviews, and go deeper than the typical “how this scene was shot” angle to bring some real insight into the meanings rooted within the film.
The special features wrap up with a vintage television interview with Bunuel, which originally aired in 1964 on French television. In this way, Criterion has successfully examined this fine film from every angle and era, making for a truly wonderful and insightful collection of extra features.
While the overall score on this disc is arguably a bit low, don’t let that fool you. Poor audio and video quality are to be expected on a classic foreign film such as this one, and it is nowhere near the standard set by most DVDs, this release presents the film in the best light that it has ever been seen in before. I say this again and again, but it is always true; Criterion has built a world-renowned reputation for presenting important films that would otherwise go unseen by the vast majority of the planet, and they do so in the very best quality possible. This, coupled with the wonderful assortment of extras here, makes this a disc that will surely please anyone who seeks it out.
Special Features List
- New video interviews with actress Silvia Pinal and Cineaste editor and author Richard Porton
- Excerpts from a 1964 episode of “Cineastes de notre temps” on Luis Bunuel’s early career
- 28-page booklet with a new essay by author and film historian Michael Wood and an archival interview with Luis Bunuel