Exterminating Angel


Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

Exterminating Angel
"This odd story is reminiscent of a Beckett play in its compelling sinisterness."

It’s the dinner party from hell. No matter how often the hosts yawn or turn off the lights, their guests just won’t leave … for weeks.

Buñuel’s surrealist fable, made in Mexico, is a beautifully photographed nightmare set at an elegant bourgeois society party. Most of the servants have, strangely, taken the night off. The hostess has a live bear and sheep prepared for entertainment; the guests eat, dance, arrange affairs, share Masonic signs, bitch about each other. And when morning comes, they’re still there, curled up on the floor and somehow unable to leave. What’s stopping them? Nothing but their own stultified, useless lack of will – but without any servants to rescue them, they’re stuck there in the room.

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Panic soon sets in. Crowds gather outside, who can’t seem to bring themselves to come in either. The guests break a pipe for water – eat paper – fall out. They vow to offer a Mass or go to Lourdes (and buy a “washable rubber Virgin”, in one of many dry lines which translate oddly and add to the strangeness), if only they can be saved. They start to hallucinate – a hand moves around, like Thing from The Addams Family – they smell, they thirst, they fight and by the time the sheep run in, the elegant dining room has become a wreck. Fires burn, animals are slaughtered. But still they put on make up and comb their hair, still call themselves gentlemen, trying to keep up the civilised façade.

This odd story is reminiscent of a Beckett play in its compelling sinisterness. Buñuel’s political agenda is clear but the exact logic behind it is fuzzy – why can’t the guests leave? What do they each represent, beyond the corruption of class? Why does one woman have chicken feet in her handbag? There are also lots of touches which are simply funny (one wonders if the film was an influence on Monty Python’s deadly dinner party in The Meaning Of Life) and underneath the surrealism is pointed satire about the dullness of conventional society. Who hasn’t felt like some tedious dinner party would never end …

From the gorgeous luxury to the grim aftermath, the film is stunningly shot, with wonderful use of shadows and expressive faces. The sound is interesting too, with no background noise, it’s often completely silent – perhaps there’s a link to Buñuel’s near-deafness by this time, or perhaps it’s simply to heighten the tension. Less well-known than The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, made on a similar theme 10 years later in France, Exterminating Angel is more than watchable in its own right.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2007
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The dinner party from hell.
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Director: Luis Buñuel

Writer: José Bergamín, Luis Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel

Starring: Silvia Pinal, Enrique Rambal, Claudio Brook, Jose Baviera, Augusto Benedico, Antonio Bravo, Jacqueline Andere, Cesar del Campo, Rosa Elena Durgel

Year: 1962

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Mexico


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