Luis Bunuel had been absent from his native land for 25 years when he was invited by the Franco government to produce a film in Spain. The result was VIRIDIANA. Ironically, it was never shown in Spanish theaters, having been banned by the Franco government immediately after its debut at

the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Golden Palm. Pinal plays the title role, a religious novitiate who visits her last remaining relative, the wealthy Don Jaime (Rey), before she takes her vows. Viridiana, firmly intent on resisting the corruption of her uncle's estate, is surprised to find

him most gracious, kind, and gentle. He, however, is secretly obsessed with her resemblance to his wife, who died 30 years earlier on their wedding night. After Don Jaime attempts to ravish the nun-to-be, who has obliged the lonely man by putting on his wife's wedding gown, he feels such remorse

that he commits suicide. Viridiana inherits the estate, along with Don Jaime's son Jorge (Rabal) and she intends to use her new position to benefit the local poor. Once again her virtuous intentions backfire. Oh, that final card game!

VIRIDIANA is filled with allegories concerning the general state of the world and Spain in particular, conveyed with the master surrealist's usual mix of black humor and stunning images. Foremost among them is the famous "Last Supper," in which a group of thoroughly degenerate beggars carouse

drunkenly, in a visual parody of Da Vinci's painting, to the strains of Handel's "Messiah." You will never forget this moment. Viridiana, who wishes to redeem these miscreants through her idealism, is mocked in the process--as is the Catholicism that Bunuel believed had to be overthrown if Spain

was to avoid becoming a decaying mess like Don Jaime's estate. Viridiana's ineffectual faith is contrasted with Jorge's more beneficial pragmatism. The changes he attempts to realize can perhaps do but minimal good, as indicated in one of Bunuel's most famous jokes: just after Jorge has rescued a

dog that was being dragged mercilessly from a cart by buying it from its owner, the director shows another cur in the same predicament, attached to another cart coming from the opposite direction. Still, Jorge does represent a practical approach to achieving modest changes for the better.

Immediately after the film was shot, it was shipped to Paris, where it was quickly edited in time for Cannes. Spanish authorities, who had not seen the final print before the festival screening, were shocked when it won the Golden Palm. Further scandal followed the film to Italy, where Bunuel was

threatened with a prison sentence if he entered the country. Despite all this controversy, VIRIDIANA has a deceptively artless quality, stemming from the poetic formality with which Bunuel allows the picture to unfold. He steered away from complex and confusing images or camera movement, and

created, along with THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, one of the most magnificent films of his incredible career.