The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Satire, Comedy of Manners  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - Mexico   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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As a son of old money who later fell on hard times and embraced Marxism, Luis Buñuel had a well-earned contempt for the idle rich, and he rarely put it to better use than in El Angel Exterminador. While the opening titles, in which Buñuel coyly proclaims that the film has no literal meaning, seem a perverse challenge, one can watch the film at face value and practically hear the wicked old surrealist chuckling at the fate of his clueless upper-crust types, whose baffling inability to go home confounds all logic but their own. With the inexplicable going on all around them, their puzzlement may not be quite so difficult to understand -- What are the sheep and the bear doing there? What do the servants know that caused them all to leave? -- but the outside world seems to have fallen in line with the delusion: as family, friends, police, and casual onlookers keep watch over the mansion, no one has the courage to go inside. After all, these people have money and power, and if they think they can't come out, there must be some reason why. While the characters seem benignly absurd in the film's early stages, they seem at once dangerous, pathetic, and darkly hilarious as they devolve into animalistic barbarism. Buñuel did not have much use for pity, and he never expends a drop for his characters here. Packed with dark, offhand humor, casually bizarre images, twisted dream sequences (including one that seems to refer to Buñuel's alleged contributions to the B-horror opus The Beast With Five Fingers), and a simple but deceptively intelligent visual style, El Angel Extermindor is the sort of film that only Buñuel could have made; along with Los Olvidados, it's the finest of his Mexican films, and an ideal warm-up for the triumphs of his last period, especially Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie, with which it would make a superb double bill.