Interview-Review: Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) – A Discreetly Charming Essay of Bourgeois Critique

the exterminating angel
First of all I’d like to apologize for my behavior during the last Interview-Review for The Front (1976). I think I was drunk or something.
That’s okay, just try to keep it chill this time.

Yes… I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything.
Well, all right that’s good enough for me. 

1) So tell me: What is The Exterminating Angel about?
Originally titled El ángel exterminador, this is a film about a group of wealthy people who are invited to a friend’s house. After a lovely evening it’s getting late, but for some reason they can’t seem to leave the house. So they break every possible social convention and sleep on the floor, but then they can’t leave in the morning either and nobody knows why, so it just keeps getting worse. There’s no more food, water and people get sick, but they just can’t leave the house.

2) Wow. That sounds crazy, almost like a horror movie. What did you like about it?
Well, you are right it does sound a little bit like a horror movie, except there’s no villain or outside threat. They can’t leave because during the script of all the unspoken social rules of the bourgeoisie something went wrong. I’d say this is a satire or comedy, but there are definitely dramatic elements as well as some surreal moments, as you’d expect from a Luis Buñuel film. I picked this film because I like the director and it’s in the Criterion Collection.

I’m also a big fan of the 1960s aesthetic and ’62 in particular had some great movies, some of my favorites in fact like L’eclisse and Lolita. This is a good film, it looks great, the actors are all very talented and I’m just fascinated by the premise. I kept thinking why don’t they just leave? But then at the end it makes sense.

3) Yeah, it really does, doesn’t it? Wow. Such an amazing movie. I loved it.
Now, was there something you disliked about the film?
Uhm… No, I just thought it was a bit repetitive in certain parts. I mean it’s not a long movie, but after a while it’s like: Okay we get it, now what? The film spins its wheels for a while, but then like I said once you get to the end it’s very satisfying, because you really understand why they couldn’t leave. I mean I’m sure you could figure it out sooner, but it’s good to actually see how the situation is resolved on screen.

4) Totally. Yeah. And who would you recommend this film to?
I’m sorry are you okay? Because you seem oddly accommodating today and I’m just not used to that.

What? Do you want me to insult you? I don’t get it. I’m nice to you and you complain. I tell insult you and you’re unhappy. What do you want me to do?
Forget it. I just thought it was weird, because usually you’re all negative and stuff, but now you actually seemed nice.

Oh, so I can’t be a nice or something? Is that what you’re saying?
No no. That’s not what I meant at all. Forget I said anything, let’s just move on with the interview. Who would I recommend this film to?

Let’s see, obviously if you like Luis Buñuel‘s work, but then I’d be surprised if you hadn’t seen this it’s one of his most celebrated films (it’s even referenced by Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris, funny scene). If you’re a fan of the Criterion Collection, I know I always say that, but it’s true, these films all have a similar tone and feel it’s weird, but it makes sense. Lastly, I think if you find the premise even mildly intriguing check it out, you won’t be sorry, this is a classic. It’s one of those films that stays with you and you’ll remember forever.

So basically you just repeated what you said when I asked you what you like about the film.
I guess I did. Sorry about that.

Not to worry (fuck face).
I’m sorry what was that?

Nothing.
I thought I heard you say “fuck face”.

No, “duck chase”. It’s a new app. Such a fun game. You should try it!
I’m looking it up right now, and there’s no duck chase app in the App Store.

Well, I have Android.
Really? On your iPhone?

5) Moving on. Anything else you want to add about the film?
Yes, I think the film is very interesting for it’s social commentary. I’m not sure what it’s trying to say about the bourgeoisie, but I like that it makes fun of them, but in a loving way. It’s not a bitter film or a film that is all about making them look bad. By making these very specific statements on the higher class, the film also manages to comment on humanity as a whole. It’s interesting to see how all social conventions disappear when you’re hungry and tired, that’s when the more animalistic side comes out. At one point there’s even an attempted rape.

I think this is a film that every self-respecting cinephile should see at least once in their life. Though it’s over fifty years old it’s still very relevant today. In a lot of ways the “ruling class” is still the same today. They still control everything and they’re didn’t change much or adapt, because they had the luxury to keep doing what they want. The Exterminating Angel is definitely about much more than just etiquette, although don’t ask me what that title means, because I wouldn’t know.

So, what does the title The Exterminating Angel mean?

7.5 out of 10

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5 comments

    • davideperretta

      There’s just too many am I right? 🙂 I’m trying to watch all the films on the Sight & Sound list. It’s a bit of a chore sometimes, but so rewarding when you find films you wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise, but are totally awesome. Plus even the ones on the list I dislike are always at least interesting or great technical achievements.

      • Alina (literaryvittles)

        yes I have noticed your Sight & Sound project! I don’t think I’ve watched any of Bunel’s films (sorry, I can’t do the n with the line on my laptop) but I recognize him & his name for some reason.

      • davideperretta

        Well, if you ever want to start I highly recommend his first Un Chien Andalou, a surreal short it’s actually on YouTube and it’s a classic or his last That Obscure Object of Desire. It’s funny that his first and his last are my favorite, but it really is like that 🙂 I haven’t seen all of his films, but Viridiana is really good as well and so is The Phantom of Liberty, though I like that one namely because Monica Vitti is in it and she speaks French 😀

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