Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Exterminating Angel

Year:  1962
Director:  Luis Bunuel
Screenplay:  Luis Bunuel
Starring:  Silvia Pinal, Enrique Rambal, Claudio Brook
Running Time:  93 minutes
Genre:  Drama, comedy, surrealism

Have you ever been at a party where all you want to do is leave, but for whatever reason, you have to stay? If so, then spare a thought for the characters in this classic surrealist satire from Spanish director Luis Bunuel. 

Following a night at the theatre, a group of wealthy friends return to the palatial mansion of Edmundo Nobile (Rambal) for a dinner party.  The servants have all made their excises and left for reasons, even they can't properly explain.  During dinner, sheep and a bear run around the hallways of the mansion.  Eventually all the guests find themselves inexplicably trapped in the mansion's music room.  There is nothing physically stopping them from leaving, and it's not that they don't want to leave, it's just that for some reason they can't.  Days drag on, food and water become increasingly scarce, the group become increasingly hostile amongst themselves and irrational.  Slowly they begin to suffer from hysteria, disease and hallucinations.  Rescue attempts from the outside world fail due to the same strange phenomenon that is preventing the guests from leaving the music room is apparently preventing anyone from getting into the house.  There is nothing physically stopping the rescuers and they want to get in, but for some reason they just can't.

This bizarre movie does not offer any explanations, and is filled with strange and disturbing imagery.  It is however unforgettable.  Here Bunuel attacks his favourite targets of the wealthy middle and upper classes and organised religion.  However he also broadens his satiricial scope to take in the ritualised nature of modern life.  As always with Bunuel the darkness is alleviated somewhat by comedy, albeit very black comedy, and some sympathy with his characters, even if they are not particularly likeable.  Shot in Mexico, on a very low budget this is still a very stylishly made film.  The idea of the film being largely set in one room, might seem dull and uncinematic but Bunuel and his cast and crew milk every drop of tension and humour from the nightmarish scenario.  

There's a direct reference to this film in the 2011 Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris in a scene where the time-travelling writer (played by Owen Wilson) describes the idea of the film to a bemused Luis Bunuel (played by Adrien de Van) who resonds:  "But why can't they leave?  I don't understand."

Still powerful, still troubling and still relevant, this will make the next party you go to seem not quite as bad.  In a weird way, the movie does end up making some kind of weird sense once you've seen it.  Even the sheep and crawling hand.  

      The partying never stops in The Exterminating Angel 

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