Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Exterminating Angel (El Angel Exterminidor) (1962)

The Exterminating Angel
Bunuel, Bunuel, Bunuel…

Based on the number of entries Luis Bunuel got on the List, he must be one of the most important directors ever. Unfortunately I have yet to recognize his genius. When he is best he is okay but his standard level seems to be a bit below that.

For “the Exterminating Angel” (“El Angel Exterminador”) Bunel is going back to his surrealist roots. On the face of it this movie makes little sense and even in symbolic form this is a difficult movie to chew. A group of wealthy people, men and women, are having a dinner party. The staff is in a hurry to leave and only one waiter stays back. The dialogue at the table and afterwards in the salon appears disconnected and non-sensical. None of the guests want to go home and eventually the guests (and hosts) realize that they cannot leave the room.

Meanwhile nobody is able to enter the villa. It is as if a force field prevents the guests to leave and the outside world to enter. Few of the guests are actually desperate to get out, but as time goes they degenerate from their polite and cultivated façade to a far more basic and aggressive level. The conversation starts making more sense, but their situation does not. Several times in the course of the movie we see a group of sheep and a bear.

Halfway through the movie I decided to check what Wikipedia says about it. There I learned that the villa is supposed to be the country of Spain, and that the dinner guests are the elite in Spain. They have been isolating the country since the Spanish Revolution in the thirties and by the early sixties the isolation is, according to Bunuel, causing the elite and the system in Spain to degenerate.

It helps with such a clue. Large parts of the movie now makes at least symbolic sense, such as the sheep, which is supposed to be the innocent public, while others remain obscure.

Bunuel was a notorious anti-fascist and this interpretation sounds very much like him. When we near the end also get an isolation of the Church Bunuel gives us his second enemy, the catholic church.  

In my opinion movies have to be careful about using symbols and certainly surrealist elements in order for the viewer to be able to relate to the story, or alternatively go all out on surrealism, so if nothing else at least it is funny. “The Exterminating Angel” lands somewhere in between. This makes some of the discussions and actions quite bizarre, but not strange enough to be amusing. Getting the clue for the interpretation helps a lot and even if I did not understand it all it, it got a lot better with that understanding.

“The Exterminating Angel” is not on my Danish version of the list and I do not know if it was part of the original list or if it was added in the big revision. In any case its status as an uncertain entry makes sense and I think we are here talking the lower part of the Bunuels movies.

I came back from China this morning and did not sleep all night. It is payback time now and I doubt this review will rate higher than the lower part of my reviews.




  1. We'll disagree on this, since it certainly seems like you didn't think too much of it. I think it's one of his best because of what it's about and how he gets there.

    If memory serves, this was part of the 10th anniversary bump of 50 new films. I really think it should have been there from the start.

  2. I can respect that. There are elements here I should like and I do not mind a fantastical element. I just think that he throws in symbolism with little respect for the narrative, which makes it difficult to digest. the sheep for example. I understand what it means but it is beyond Lynch.