Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961). Censorship is a funny thing. The Spanish censors rejected a scene from Viridiana that showed a woman entering a man’s room, with the door closing behind her. Buñuel suggested that he add a third person to the scene, a servant, and have the two women and the man play cards together. This was OK with the censors, resulting in a scene that strongly suggested a ménage à trois. One never knows with Buñuel when he is being serious and when he is being playful, mostly because he is often both at once. He also can’t resist poking authority in artful ways (that are again serious and playful). The most famous sequence in Viridiana comes when a group of beggars get drunk and party to excess, turning a home into a disaster area. The beggars decide to commemorate their festivities with a photograph … as they randomly gather around the dinner table, they fall into place, matching the layout of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The story of a woman about to take her vows as a nun, who is led astray by an aging uncle who drugs her and tries to rape her (he has a pang of conscience and doesn’t complete the act), Viridiana is the kind of movie where you could just list all of your favorite scenes without ever managing to put everything together. That might actually be a decent approach, for while Viridiana, like so much of Buñuel’s work, has a consistent philosophy, that philosophy is illustrated by the kinds of actions you want to talk about with friends after seeing the picture. So Viridiana gives up on the convent, but tries to bring beauty and peace into the world by adopting beggars … and the beggars let her down. A man sees a dog being mistreated and buys it to prevent further abuse … and doesn’t notice another dog suffering the same abuse. People think they are doing good, but none of their actions translate into good for the people at large, and in fact, don’t do much for the individuals being saved, either … the dog wants to escape back to its abusive owner. Silvia Pinal is Viridiana, and her beauty isn’t quite the same as that of Catherine Deneuve, another beautiful actress who appeared in several Buñuel films. From the moment we see Deneuve, we know we are looking at The Most Beautiful Woman in the World ™. No matter what Buñuel does to her characters, that beauty is always there. Pinal lets her beauty sneak up on us. When she’s dressed in her nun’s clothes, she looks attractive in a religious kind of way. We know Buñuel will find a way to mess things up, but Pinal remains part of her costume until she goes to visit her uncle. Then, free of her garments, Pinal’s beauty blossoms. The same can’t be said for Viridiana’s life, of course. #76 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10. Pretty much any Buñuel film would make a good double-bill with this one. The Exterminating Angel also features Silvia Pinal, as does Simon of the Desert.
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008). I find Mike Leigh films to be a mixed bag. I admired Naked even though I didn’t like it, thought Vera Drake was good, if dreary, and liked Another Year quite a bit. I didn’t expect much from Happy-Go-Lucky, the tagline for which was “The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.” And when the movie started, and Sally Hawkins as Poppy (“Poppy”!) had a smile on her face virtually 100% of the time, I feared a dose of saccharine, even though I don’t normally think of that term when the subject is Mike Leigh. It was worth sticking with the movie. First, Hawkins is wonderful … she completely convinces us of her happiness, but there is more going on … she’s not Forrest Gump. She isn’t lost in her own world, and she recognizes that others may not be as happy as she is. And Leigh constructs the film so we gradually see the depth inside of Poppy. The work Hawkins and Leigh do to convince us of Poppy’s depth are crucial; without them, it would be like Forrest Gump. Eddie Marsan matches Hawkins’ excellence as a bitter driving instructor, and I loved the scenes with Poppy and her roommate (Alexis Zegerman), which hit the note of realism I imagine Leigh is always trying to get. #212 on the TSPDT list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10. Pair it with Another Year. For Sally Hawkins in supporting roles, try An Education or the recent Godzilla.