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February 28, 2005 | by  | in Film |
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CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel, Directed by Luis Bunuel, Mexico 1962

I got me a movie that I want you to know. Luis Bunuel is one the greatest directors of all time, renowned for his ruthless and brilliant explorations of the human psyche. He made his first splash with the surreal film Un Chien Andalou (1929), which he made with Salvador Dali and which is still famous for its slicing up eyeballs shot. Causing outrage throughout his career, only Hitchcock could compare as a known filmmaker who tried to piss off his audience so much. I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan. Bunuel was a debaser.

In 1961, he made his all-time masterpiece, Viridiana, about a nun who, while trying to do God’s work and be good, only ends up being patronising, selfish and shat upon by a bunch of vagrants. Naturally, having made that in an authoritarian and Catholic Spain, Bunuel was banished back to Mexico (he made a number of films there post-World War II, including the brilliant Los Olvidados).
Having attacked the Church, Bunuel’s next target was the middle class. In The Exterminating Angel, dinner party guests suddenly find themselves unable to leave the party. Their complete failure results into their degeneration into savagery. Its ironic resolution is undercut even more by a vicious and sobering ending (my claims last week about the Mexican language merely resulted from dialectical and regional differences. For example, did you know there is a varying use of vosotros and ustedes for the plural form of “you” depending on which part of the world you are in? It makes you think).

The film’s surreal premise (it arose out a Bunuel dream) came from Bunuel attempting “to have no explanation”. But its brutal observations on the pettiness of the middle class would obviously have been sharpened following his treatment by the Spanish. Of course, it wouldn’t be Bunuel if it wasn’t told in delicious black humour too. His usual pessimism about the human spirit is contrasted with strands of optimism (i.e. the possibility of getting out), making this film absolute genius.

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About the Author ()

Brannavan Gnanalingam has come a long way from being born in the teeming metropolis of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He may be known as feature writer for Salient, but is also the only man in history to have simultaneously donated both his kidneys. He is also an amateur rapper going under the moniker Brantank and hopes to win a Grammy.

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