It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I can't think of a more mischievous filmmaker than Luis Buñuel. After you get to know him, you can catch him winking in the first few shots. Under the opening title shot of "Viridiana," we hear Handel's "Messiah," but knowing Buñuel we doubt this will be a religious picture. In the second and third shots, we see a Mother Superior advising a novice at a cloistered convent to visit her old uncle before he dies. No good can come of this in a Buñuel film. The fourth shot shows a girl skipping rope. Well, not the whole girl, just her feet, observed for a little too long. "That was a wonderful afternoon little Luis spent on the floor of his mother's closet," Pauline Kael once observed, "and he has never allowed us to forget it."
So: Buñuel the satirist, Buñuel the anti-clerical, Buñuel the fetishist. That's the usual litany, but we should not exclude Buñuel the grandmaster of black comedy. None of his films is lacking a cheerfully sardonic view of human nature. His object is always dry humor. Even when he was working for Hollywood studios, recycling the sets and costumes of English-language pictures into Spanish versions of the same screenplays, or later simply dubbing them into Spanish, he slyly slipped in a few touches that were lacking in the sources. He is one of the great originals, creator of satirical delight, sometimes hilarious funny, and if you love great movies you sooner or later get to him.
Buñuel began as a Surrealist, and in Paris collaborated with Salvador Dali on "Un Chien Andalou" (1929), which is only 16 minutes long but remains one of the most famous films of the century. His "L'Age d'Or" (1930), a Surrealist attack on organized religion, was unseeable for 50 years after his wealthy patron, Le Vicomte de Noailles, decided to suppress it. Buñuel returned to his native Spain but left after the rise of Franco's fascists, and found work in America. After the war, Buñuel became a Mexican citizen and lived there until his death, although he made many films in France, and "Viridiana" in Spain.
Why, his admirers wondered, would he return to Spain, where the dictator Franco was still in power? He told various stories. One was that he was offered four times his salary by a producer. Another was that he felt nostalgia for his homeland. A third that he didn't mention was, I suspect, to make this particular film.