Ritual and Ceremony
and their Intertextual Reverberation
in 'Viridiana' by Bunuel
Rituals and ceremonies can be seen as the structural backbone of Viridiana. They provide a network of visual actions, which epitomize abstract ideas, and introduce sophisticated ironic implications in cinematically effective forms. Moreover, they serve to "import" intertextual allusions that amplify the primary significance of the mimetic occurrence.
The wedding ceremony hovers over much of the cinematic action. Analyzing the film as organized around it, reveals its integrity and discloses signifying elements that could not be reached otherwise. The expository knowledge about Don Jaime's wedding, during which his bride had died before the marriage could be consummated, introduces death in the midst of the most quintessential ceremonial celebration of life and procreation. The initial ceremony is not seen on the screen, yet it is visually fleshed out through an array of fragments. The wedding dress is seen as Don Jaime caresses it in a private cult at night. Viridiana agrees to wear it at her uncle's tortured request, though she is preparing to take her vows as a nun. While simulating part of the wedding ceremony, he drugs her, then carries her in his arms to his bridal bed, as if complying with the nuptial custom of carrying the bride to bed. Yet, instead of consummating "the marriage", he meticulously arranges her dress and crosses her arms over her breasts as if in a ruitual of death.
The beggars' party could be interpreted as ironially continuing the bourgeois matrimonial protocol. After simulating the bourgeois wedding dinner, the beggars proceed with the dancing that usually follows it. A leper wears the wedding dress and dances, mimicking the bride's movements. Eventually, one of the beggars grabs Viridiana, carries her to Don Jaime's nuptial bed and rapes her, at long last "consummating the marriage" and completing the ultimate ceremonial action of wedlock.
This pivotal function of the wedding ceremony and its rites in Viridiana reflects Bunuel's ideological orientation. As a leading figure of Surrealism, he sees marriage as a fortress of conventional morality, an epitome of bourgeois and religious false pretensions. Nevertheless, the film is far from being ideologically didactic. The marriage ceremony is hermetically surrounded by intentionally anti-ceremonial manifestations of erotic relationships, including procreation: Don Jaime has an illegitimate son, who boasts being free to live with women and exchange them outside of wedlock, unmarried women beggars are pregnant, bear children and keep on mating, sprawling on the floor. The disgusting cinematic portrayal of this web of events is far from promoting the surrealist ideal of free natural, instinctive sensuality. It rather introduces ambivalence, if not admiration for the cultural refinement of conventional morality and religion.
More direct and clear-cut is the ideological impact of the intertextual "import" of major Christian rituals and their parodic employment in the film. Such is the cinematic sequence parodying the Angelus prayer through explicit reference to Millet's The Angelus and to Dali's paranoiac obsession with this painting, and such is the sequence of the beggars' dinner referring to da Vinci's The Last Supper.
Rituals and ceremonies in Viridiana mediate between the ideological complexity and the mimetic credibility of the film. Their extensive structural employment could serve as a paradigm of cinematic expression in the ongoing quest of the cinematic medium for medially applicable ways of conveying abstract meaning.