Exterminating Angel

September 13, 2009


Another Bunuel film:  this one about a group of upper class (bourgeois) in Mexico City who come to a dinner party and can’t ever leave.  They can’t leave the room – can’t step over the threshold to the next one where the front door is visible.  Nor can anyone outside come in and get them.  Nobody knows why.

Not all that unlike those discretely charming ones I was watching last week.  They too are immobilized, in time, in the world, in their little world, and undone by dinner parties.  As Bunuel said in the interview printed in the pamphlet that came with the Criterion Collection DVD, “I am a man of obsessions.”

While the guests are “trapped” in the parlor, they slowly descend towards savagery.  The idiotic and not so idiotic pretensions of their upper crust culture fall away and are replaced by despair, hunger, the desire to find a sacrificial victim, and rank disgust with one another.  Not a new theme, not a deep theme, but a good theme!  And treated with humor and biting sarcasm by LB.  Of course, lots of strange, inexplicable images too, like why did that guy tie a blindfold on a sheep that got into the room?

One other thing about the interview that struck me was that the critics often presented rather involved or esoteric interpretations of things in the film, asking for a “Yes, that’s it“, or a”No” from Bunuel.  Most of the time it was a “no.”  We are so eager to explain, or have explained to us the weird or the mysterious.  Especially from artists, whom we assume must know what they mean and have a clear message (even if it’s a clunky Cold War political allegory that seems utterly incredible – one explanation of the bear’s antics in the adjoining room – he represents the USSR threatening the bourgeoisie!)  More often than not, Bunuel said something like, “Well, I just wanted a strange image,” or “it just happened that way, and I really liked how it looked.”