Exterminating Angel, The (1962)

Not Bunuel at his finest, but he takes down the upper-classes in the kind of sharp comic absurdity that he is known for. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #794

Dir. Luis Bunuel
1962 | Mexico | Drama | 93 mins | 1.33:1 | Spanish
PG (passed clean) for some disturbing images

Cast: Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, Enrique Rambal, Lucy Gallardo
Plot: A formal dinner party starts out normally enough. After the bourgeois group retire to the host’s music room, they inexplicably find themselves unable to leave.
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)

Source: Tamasa Distribution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Class, Human Behaviour
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion DVD
First Published: 2 Sep 2012
Spoilers: No

This is one peculiar film, but then that’s the name of Luis Bunuel’s game. The legendary Spanish director, who famously had an eyeball slit in one of the most haunting images in the history of cinema in the groundbreaking surrealist short Un Chien Andalou (1929), did most of his best work post-1960.

One of the films, The Exterminating Angel, saw Bunuel channeling the kind of sharp comic absurdity that he was known for, in response to the socio-political situation of the time, while not forgetting to demonize the upper-classes in society.

The Exterminating Angel has a plot that will leave you dumbfounded, not because it is complex or anything, but because it appears to be near impossible to shoot such a picture without boring the hell out of the viewer. The plot simply says this: The guests of an upper-class dinner party inexplicably find themselves unable to leave.

Bunuel stuck to his guns, and delivered a film that for most parts centered around a group of societal elites ‘stuck’ in a small hall in the host’s house for many days and nights to the amusement of the public, who apparently aren’t able to enter the vicinity of the house as well (a commentary on the upper-classes being untouchable?).

“Every now and then we used to meet in this room – just friends – passing unforgettable hours together.”

Bunuel’s interest was to show that no matter how regal or well-mannered (or arrogant) the upper-classes were, they could be reduced to pathetic animals.

How Bunuel did it was kind of extraordinary, considering the limitations that he had in terms of the number of shooting locations, the style of dialogue, and seemingly no lead character to focus on.

It is something like directing 12 Angry Men (1957), but the stakes are higher because there is neither Henry Fonda to drive some sense into everyone concerned, nor an intriguing murder case to fall back on.

In The Exterminating Angel, not only are the characters called to judge their own and others’ existence, but the very existence of each character is in question.

Bunuel used techniques such as the repeat of dialogue by other characters, the narrative’s application of déjà vu, and surrealistic imagery to not only jolt the viewer, but to jolt the characters out of their strange hypnotism.

The result is a quite satisfying payoff, although it must be said that the film can be difficult to watch if you are an impatient viewer to begin with.

Grade: B+

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