The Exterminating Angel
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 93 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Review Date: February 1, 2009
Whether it’s an allegory, a satire, or just a dark, sick joke, to say that Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel is an unusual film is a massive understatement. Sumptuously filmed and filled with surrealistic takes on everyday behaviors in extreme situations, The Exterminating Angel takes art cinema to a new level, an unsettling metaphoric tale with possibly as many explanations as there are viewers trying to explain it.
A beautifully detailed dinner party thrown by Lucía de Nobile (Lucy Gallardo) and her husband Edmundo (Enrique Rambal) begins with a servant tripping and spilling the hors d’oeuvres. Though the party seems to run smoothly after that, the evening wanes into the wee hours of the morning and the fancily-appointed guests find they’re so exhausted that they simply collapse on sofas, into chairs, or on the floor with the intention of leaving the next morning. Strangely, however, they find the next day that some unexplained force is preventing them from leaving their hosts’ living room thus beginning a harrowing, nightmarish weeks-long sojourn as their bourgeois notions of proper behavior and civilized conduct deteriorate into hallucinatory escapades, thoughts of suicide, and inevitably mobbed insurrection against their host whom they inexplicably blame for everything.
Luis Buñuel’s script never feels the need to explain what’s preventing the group from leaving their self-imposed prison, but he seems to be taking an enormous amount of pleasure watching the characters as their religious beliefs give way to pagan rituals, their elaborate evening clothes become more ragged and ratty as the film proceeds, and their snooty self-importance melts away into a savagery they would have previously thought for themselves impossible. It’s an unforgettable moment when they finally crack through a plaster wall and burst a water pipe so they can at long last get something to drink, and a crawling hand slowly making its way to the neck of a woman almost out of her mind with hunger makes for another disturbing, Dalí-esque image. The production design by Jesus Bracho of the opulent dining and living rooms of the Nobiles together with Georgette Somohano’s stunning costumes achieves great comic irony by film’s end as the rooms and their inhabitants’ clothes are decimated by the natural human tendency to survive at all costs. Buñuel films the torturous story effortlessly without any fancy camera moves. Even the psychotic mind tricks are presented matter-of-factly.
The film is loaded with exquisite though understated performances. Lucy Gallardo’s Lucía and particularly Enrique Rambal’s Edmundo play their hosts roles to perfection, initially peeved that the guests choose to stay the night instead of going home no matter the lateness of the hour and later sinking into despair over the undeserved criticism as if they somehow had a hand in keeping people chained to the occupied room. Claudio Brook’s dignified steward Julio is one of the few people who emerge from the disaster with dignity intact, perhaps a blackly satiric comment from the filmmaker on the upper class’ dependency on creature comforts and its lack of success with adjusting to the unforeseen and inconvenient.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is accurately represented in this transfer, slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s customary style with Academy ratio films. The grayscale is very pleasing with excellent contrast bringing forth very good black levels (though one may despair during the credit sequence which looks and sounds very shaky). There are a couple of slight white scratches that appear during the film, but they disappear quickly. The white subtitles are easy to read, and the film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio mix is typical of its era, but despite the best efforts in the lab, hiss has not been totally eliminated, and it sometimes rises to disconcertingly conspicuous volume levels. There’s a bit of distortion, too, at odd moments, but those are fleeting.
The film’s theatrical trailer (which oddly seems to portray the film as a murder mystery) runs 3 ¾ minutes in 1.33:1.
Most of the bonus features are contained on the set’s second disc.
“The Last Script: Remembering Luis Buñuel” is a 97-minute documentary filmed in 2008 featuring Buñuel’s son Juan Luis along with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière visiting the cities where Buñuel lived during his life making for an interesting and unusual type of biographical documentary. Presented in nonanamorphic letterbox, the feature is filled with home movies, photographs, and clips from Buñuel’s movies.
Two interviews are presented as special supplements. The first is a 10 ¼-minute talk with actress Silvia Pinal (who plays “Valkyrie” in the movie) who speaks candidly about the three films she made with Buñuel, particularly The Exterminating Angel. The other is with filmmaker Arturo Ripstein who gives a more complete overview of Buñuel’s films with a special focus on The Exterminating Angel. His interview runs 14 ¾ minutes, and both are presented in 4:3.
The enclosed 38-page booklet contains some vivid stills from the movie, a think piece on The Exterminating Angel by film professor Marsha Kinder, and an excerpt from a book of Buñuel interviews that directly address the subject of The Exterminating Angel.
Another in the string of Luis Buñuel art films in the Criterion Collection, The Exterminating Angel is surely one of a kind. A good video presentation along with some arresting special features make this an easy recommendation for the director’s admirers.