Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Movie Review: EL ÁNGEL EXTERMINADOR



aka THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Mexico; 1962

Luis Buñuel's surreal classic has been reviewed and studied by critics and scholars far more talented than I. So I am not even going to try and attempt to match wits with those who would analyze every frame & contemplate its meaning and hidden agendas. Instead, allow me to explore its more cult qualities.

The premise itself is brilliantly simple. A Mexican aristocrat has invited a number of colleagues and associates to his mansion for a cigar & nightcap after attending an opera. As the guests arrive, the houses staff begins to flee. This leaves the home owners with but one waiter to entertain a dozen or so guests. As the night progresses the guests become weary, so naturally a slumber party breaks out. Couples scrounge for couch or floor space as the entire party beds down for the night. The group of social elite wake up to find that they are trapped in the entertaining room with no explanation or logical reason as to why they can not simple walk out the floor door. As hours grow into days the upper class socialites begin to turn on each other, fighting over why these events have transpired and who is to blame. They are running out of water and food. The local government officials can't pass the front gate to pull them out of the room or to even bring them supplies. And Jack & Sayid have captured one of "The Others" and are holding him hostage in the hatch.

One could go on at length as to Buñuel's possible intentions. That no matter what your social or economic status, when cornered & trapped the beast will take over in us all, is one reflection. That when the group is unable to "Flight" they "Fight", could be another similar take. Or simply how to lure a sheep from your living room into your dining room, catch it, skin it, and roast it over a crackling fire of wooden chairs and family heirlooms. What I took away most however were specific elements and scenes that latched on to my brain and held on with talons.

I love a simple story. One set & a few interesting characters, when written and filmed properly, can out entertain a big budget Hollywood spectacle any day. And this film is a key example of a master at work. Being familiar only with Buñuel's short film collaboration with Salvador Dalí (Un chien andalou or the let's freak people out by cutting this girls eye film) before viewing Ángel, I was amazed by his camera work and the way he approached the films dialogue. A crowed room of frantic people whose hope of rescue is fading into a jumbled mess was handled with expert care. You freely flowed from one conversation to the next picking up small piece of dialogue that strung together to form a whole.

I loved how the help & wait staff seemed unconsciously aware of the fact that they needed to leave the house at once. Yet the noblemen and their guests where clueless to their approaching fate.

At one point early on in the film you get a peak inside a woman's hand bag. Inside she has chicken bones and other ritualistic items. This at first struck me as being weird for the sake of being weird, but later it is shown that that particular woman practices Kabbalah. Earlier that same day she had a premonition and felt it necessary to carry with her to the opera a selection of items that would later become necessary to treat one of her fellow trapped upper classmen.

I was also intrigued by one particular guest who after several days trapped in the room yelled a strange howl out the open doorway. Two men behind began to discuss how the man has finally lost it, only to be corrected by a guest who was a doctor. The yell was a distress call used by the Freemasons. Any brother who hears the cry is to drop what ever they are doing and come right away to help. This "call for help" was the only line of dialogue that was not subtitled, which added a great sense of mystery to it and a feeling of distress. I asked a friend of mine who happens to be a Knight Templar (you may know them as The Blind Dead) and there is such a thing. Used only as a last resort, there are apparently historical accounts where such a call has been both heard and answered. These bits and pieces of different cultures and religions were one of the more intriguing things about the film.

Why not jump out of the windows? Can they break down the walls? Why doesn't someone just push another someone out the front door? Why is there a bear in the living room? You will find yourself asking a number of questions & while not all will be answered, sometimes the questions themselves are far more entertaining.

The Exterminating Angel (US title) is currently not available on DVD, which is a crime. This film deserves to be restored and treated with care. Criterion can you hear me? The subtitles would need work. So much was going on at once that I felt as if certain segments of dialogue were cut to accommodate others. Of all the places, I caught this film on TV. Turner Classic Movies played it unedited and uninterrupted. I applaud them for their selections of films and for showing them the TLC that film fans deserve. TCM is one of the few TV channels worth paying for. Unlike AMC (American Movie Classics) whose warped idea of what makes a film a classic is obviously driven by its advertisers. Cocoon: the Return is not a classic. El Ángel Exterminador most certainly is.

Review by The Undead Film Critic!

6 comments:

idiotproof67 said...

Er dude, it is on DVD... From Brazil label Versátil. With Eng subs.

Fantastic blog by the way.
Just found it today.
Right up my alley.

Jared said...

How's the quality on that disc?

Miguel Rosa said...

I loved this movie! How can I not admire a filmmaker who creates a hellish situation out of nothing? Put a bunch of people in a room and invent a strange force impeding them from leaving. Then watch them turn into barbarians. It's one of my favorite Buñuel movies.

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