Movies We Like
In 1962, only a year after his hugely successful and critically acclaimed breakout film, Viridiana, Luis Bunuel created Exterminating Angel. It was fairly well received and admired in the initial release, but it would take over a decade of films to follow in its wake for Exterminating Angel to be considered one of Bunuel’s best films and as a masterpiece of surrealist cinema.
The story is simple: guests of an upper-class dinner party find themselves unable to leave. Why? Well, no one can figure that out. More importantly, no one is willing to make an attempt to figure it out. And from this absurd circumstance, Bunuel weaves together a story filled with biting satire, debasing interactions, and a subtly repetitive time structure. In typical Bunuel fashion, humor and sadness occupy the same emotional terrain, feeding off one another in the same scene, creating a tense and anomalous atmosphere as the movie progresses.
Just as the characters in the film wallow in confusion, we, the viewers, have no answers to their dilemma either. A less gifted director might only go as far as this, allowing the viewer to be confused and stay confused without return. Bunuel expects more form his audience. He is keen to trust his audiences’ moral superiority over the hyperbolic bourgeois characters that inhabit the film. In turn, the audience gains a moral high ground, a secure footing, which allows us to scrutinize Bunuel’s characters and see them as shallow ritualistic wolves, feeding on the vulnerable and less fortunate.
Exterminating Angel exemplifies Bunuel’s style. It encompasses most of the ideas he’d explore in greater detail later on in his career, such as the buffoonery of organized religion, the superficiality of the rich, predatory masculinity, and decaying human relationships. Even though the scope and ambition of the film is vast, Bunuel frames his drama like a chamber play, stripped down and minimal. These contrasting notions converge into a hyper reality where logic and absurdity become indistinguishable from one another. It is this aspect of the film that makes it fairly unique and a worthwhile film to see both for the novice and the seasoned Bunuel watcher.
Exterminating Angel just got reissued along with Simon of the Dessert. In many ways they make great companion pieces and if you like one of them, you’ll more than likely enjoy the other. Highly Recommended.