The Exterminating Angel: Criterion Collection
March 11, 2009
The Exterminating Angel (1962) marked the end of legendary filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s 18-year stint in Mexico and the only film from that period in which he had complete artistic freedom. He had just come off the controversy of Viridiana (1961) and was interested in making a more personal film. Producer Gustavo Alatriste was willing to give Bunuel a shot by agreeing to back The Exterminating Angel and give the filmmaker the creative freedom he desired.
A group of 20 high society friends come together for a dinner party only to realize that after dinner they are unable to leave the living room for reasons that are never explained to them or us. Things start normally as the help staff bicker back and forth in the kitchen, preparing food for the dinner. The guests arrive all elegantly dressed. However, there are a few things that are a bit amiss. There is the servant who quits before any guests arrive. Two serving ladies leave before dinner is served. And then there is the servant who trips and spills the hors d’oeuvres all over the rug, much to the amusement of some of the guests.
Bunuel’s trademark surrealistic touches begin to manifest themselves in a scene where the hostess enters an adjoining room to the dining room and we see a young black bear and three sheep. She regards them as casually as one would domesticated pets. Many of the dinner guests are vain, obnoxious, racist, and gossip about one another with the most unflattering comments. As the party stretches into the wee hours of the morning, people tire and everyone decides to stay the night, hanging out in the spacious living room, which violates basic good etiquette.
Bunuel’s film viciously satirizes the rich, upper class, exposing all of their worst traits and shows how they are kept in check under the facade of civility and decorum, but when this breaks down, they turn on each other in a primal example of social Darwinism. By the next night, all of the guests are still there and unable to leave the room. An elderly guest has slipped into a coma, all of the beverages are depleted and one female guest becomes hysterical. Eventually, they expose a water pipe and greedily clamor for a taste. The lone wait staff member seems to be the only person who acts kind and selfless towards others.
The Exterminating Angel is another one of Bunuel’s cinematic attacks on self-important high society. His film seems to suggest the high society dinner guests are no different than us and that we are all equal when stripped of our creature comforts and left to fend for ourselves.
The first disc includes a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with “The Last Script: Remembering Luis Bunuel,” a 96-minute documentary made in 2008 that features screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and Bunuel’s son, Juan Luis Bunuel. They revisit the various countries that the filmmaker worked. His son offers personal recollections of what life was like in these places with his father. Carriere talks about working with Bunuel. There is excellent footage of these cities from all over the world, giving us a taste of their local colour.
There is an interview with Silvia Pinal. She talks about the three films that she made with Bunuel. She starts off by saying that with The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel invented reality show because it is a reality show about people who can’t leave a room. Pinal still claims not to understand this film.
Finally, there is an interview with “Arturo Ripstein.” He talks about his experiences watching Bunuel at work making The Exterminating Angel. He points out that Bunuel went against the popular trend in Mexican cinema of presenting an idealized image of the country. He also talks about how Bunuel tapped into the absurdism and surrealism of the country and reflected it in his films.