EXTERMINATING ANGEL (El ÁNGEL EXTERMINADOR)(director/writer: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: Luis Alcoriza/from the unpublished play “Los Náufragos”by José Bergamín; cinematographer: Gabriel Figueroa; editor: Carlos Savage Jr.; music: Raúl Lavista; cast: Silvia Pinal (Leticia ‘La Valkiria’), Jacqueline Andere (Alicia de Roc), José Baviera (Leandro), Augusto Benedico (The doctor), Luis Beristáin (Cristián), Antonio Bravo (Russell), Claudio Brook (Majordomo), César del Campo (The colonel), Rosa Elena Durgel (Sylvia), Lucy Gallardo (Lucía de Nobile), Enrique García Álvarez (Augusto Roc), Ofelia Guilmáin (Juana Avila), Nadia Haro Olivia (Ana Maynar); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gustavo Alatriste; Altura Films International; 1962-Mexico, in Spanish with English subtitles)
“A deliciously sardonic black comedy in the best surrealistic tradition of auteur Luis Buñuel.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Exterminating Angel is based on an unpublished play entitled “Los Náufragos” by José Bergamín. It is a deliciously sardonic black comedy in the best surrealistic tradition of auteur Luis Buñuel. It’s a sick one-idea joke directed at the elite attending a formal post-opera dinner party after a noble, ironically named Nobile (Enrique Rambal), has invited his society friends to his museum-like home after seeing a religious opera about a virgin bride. The guests are symbolically cast as the privileged supporters of the dictator Franco, someone the filmmaker detested and loved to poke fun at whenever. Since Buñuel got in trouble with the Spanish censors previously, he therefore had to film this one in Mexico and live abroad since Franco took power.
After the guests arrive in their evening garb and are escorted by their impeccably correct hosts through the spacious high-ceiling manor that has an elaborate spiral staircase leading to the coatroom and salon, where the guests exchange pleasantries, make secret dalliances, gossip and cast aspersions on the others behind their backs, and await the serving of an exotic feast. One of the early signs that we are in for a savage attack on the bourgeoisie is when the footman Lucas vanishes for no reason, and then a waiter trips and his tray of mouth-watering appetizers spills onto the floor as most of the guests take this as an amusing joke. After the meal is served and is called a success, the guests retreat to the luxurious salon for more conversation and stay all night as no one seems to want to leave even though the party should have ended. In the morning, we find that for no rational reason the high-society guests are trapped in the manor and can’t leave. Though the cook and the waiters have already fled, as only the upper class remain in the house. Buñuel has a ball mocking the guests as their snobbishness and self-confidence begins to dwindle as their unexplained imprisonment continues with no end in sight as it goes from 24 hours to days. The guests are now viewed as prisoners in their once comfy bourgeois world, as the manor begins to decay and resemble a pig sty as the guests make do on the sofa and chairs. They soon forget their proper upbringing and societal manners as hunger overcomes them and they fight like dogs over the remaining scraps of food and gnaw at the mutton bones, as Buñuel takes delight showing what a pack of hypocrites they all are and how their civilized rules that govern society are nothing but a sham. There are further touches of the surreal, as a bear growls in the hallway and a flock of sheep suddenly appear and walk around the manor. The sheep are naturally heading for a nearby church. A guest who is a mason chants out a secret call for a fellow free-mason to help. But their plight continues, as those on the outside can’t go in to rescue them for the same mysterious reasons as the guests can’t leave. The manor has now been quarantined, as the fear is that there’s a disease that might spread an epidemic. But why they can’t leave is never determined, as there are no barriers and no reason why they can’t leave except they have lost their will to cross an invisible line and go outside. As a crowning irony, the hypocritical non-believers become staunch religious believers and turn the house into a Catholic Church as they start praying. It seems that by participating in the meaningless ritual of the church, they are saved from completely going primal and allowing their animal instincts to rule their behavior. They have traded the emptiness of their former bourgeois lives for the emptiness of the church, as it seems that if they didn’t have either safeguards they would revert to their animal nature.
This one is a beauty, filmed with a hard visual coldness that rattles in the bones. It’s one of Buñuel’s best parables, where the director creates a desperate feeling and doesn’t spoil the setup with unneeded messages. The director has said of this work that “Basically I simply see a group of people who couldn’t do what they want to … that kind of dilemma, the impossibility of satisfying a simple desire, often occurs in my movies.” When the film moves into full swing it turns linear and it moves full blast ahead in an inward direction.
REVIEWED ON 10/18/2003 GRADE: A +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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