English Title: The Exterminating Angel
Original Title: El ángel exterminador
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Drama
Director/Writer: Luis Buñuel
Music: Raúl Lavista
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Rosa Elena Durgel
César del Campo
Patricia de Morelos
Nadia Haro Oliva
Enrique García Álvarez
A Buñuel school’s invitation is always becoming for any cinephile’s reservoir, currently this film marks my fourth entrance into his territory after the lesser approachable THE MILKY WAY (1969), THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is an outstanding surrealism allegory, Buñuel maneuvers a sleight of hand with sheer simplicity, the entire story is predominantly crammed in a living room of a regal mansion, the owners Lucía (Gallardo) and Edmundo (Rambal) host a dinner party for 20 middle-class guests. Bizarrely the party never ends, all of them, with the steward Julio (Brook) are incarcerated in the living room, whoever intends to get out of the room, will involuntarily alter his mind to stay, meanwhile for the people outside, the same mysteriously inexplicable force hedges them from entering too.
Trapped in this claustrophobic space, the coexistence turns sour with time ruthless consuming the sustenance, the energy and the etiquette, simultaneously squabbles, vituperation, oneiric hallucinations, suicidal tendency and roughhousing all come to the fore (Buñuel could go to extreme with cannibalism but he chose to refrain), the procedure of everyone takes off their facade and betrays their true self is excruciatingly riveting, the film could scale new heights as a superb probing essay on human nature if Buñuel cared to exhume deeper to each character’s meaty backstory (the fraternal hint, the flirtatious lady with terminal cancer, the undercurrent of adultery between the hostess and the Colonel, a votive trip to Lourdes, the before/after reaction of taking the ulcer pills, not to mention the “La Valkiria” Leticia played by the first-billed Silvia Pinal, there are a slew of untold scandals are in need of elaboration). Instead the upshot is executed with a much murkier distinction, conspicuously they are all pawns in Buñuel’s storybook, it is rather an exacting task to distinguish all the different roles from a first-viewing, if only Robert Altman would do a remake, and expunge the political metaphor of the ending, then it would be transformed into a highly-watchable character analysis and an incisive farce with eye-dropping theatrical showpieces.
Of course Buñuel’s mastery is omnipresent in the film, the superimposition shot of a clear sky upon a facial portrait, the outlandish amalgam of lambs and a baby bear, and the creative approach to offer a vent to let them out (a Paradisi’s sonata is the turning point), until the climax, we all realize it is just a trial run, and the denouement is a dual indictment on undiscerning religious belief and the political status quo at then, pepped up with a palpable feeling of hopelessness.
Also the slap to the bourgeois is loud and clear since the film’s opening, it is the servants who are sentient of the pending uncanniness, and urge to leave the house as soon as possible, only the obtuse are being entrapped by the almighty trickster. Then what happens to the hoi polloi in the church? The purge is more generic or we should merely stop over-interpretation? Anyway who needs a concrete answer as long as Buñuel is concerned.