Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Criteritron #12

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast streaming offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #12: The Exterminating Angel / El ángel exterminador
Mexico, 1962
Written and Directed by Luis Buñuel

What Is It?: A class satire by one of the bourgeoisie's most constant—and most entertaining—critics. Luis Buñuel, the Spanish filmmaker whose wandering career began in 1920s Paris alongside Salvador Dali with the surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou, always maintained a certain class consciousness alongside his absurdity, and both are on display in The Exterminating Angel. The film concerns a group of well-to-do people who attend a party at the sumptuous home of Edmundo Nobile (Enrique Rambal), where strange things occur. First, the servants all leave for one reason or another. Then, instead of going home, the guests all spend the night in the music room. It soon becomes apparent that, for some mysterious reason, no-one is able to leave the room, and no-one outside the house can get in. As the days add up, the group's hauteur and fancy manners may not be enough to prevent the gathering from descending into chaos.

Why Watch It?: Because everyone needs some Buñuel in their lives. His ability to meld the hilarious absurdity of dreams with sharply-observed criticisms of society and its institutions was unparalleled. Throughout his career, Buñuel poked fun at religion, sex, wealth, manners, and every other pretense humans use to separate themselves from animals. All of these things factor into the core of The Exterminating Angel, and the group's attempts to free themselves from (or make peace with) their entrapment point at the failures of each of these societal structures. But lest you should think The Exterminating Angel is some kind of lecture or piece of propaganda, relax; the film is entertaining, intriguing, scary, funny, and frustrating by turns—all in a good way. Its crisp black and white cinematography and lavish set design are evocative of the upper class's hollowness and isolation, especially as the situation in the house deteriorates and all the wealthy trappings fall away. Though he could, at times, be heavy-handed, and though his stories were sometimes hampered by being little more than vehicles for episodic surreal satire, Buñuel's unique perspective and devilishly daring attitude usually carry the day. When it comes to The Exterminating Angel, its Twilight Zone-esque vibe makes it one of his more relatable works.

The Exterminating Angel is available for purchase on DVD, and is available via Netflix's disc rental service. You can also stream The Exterminating Angel on HuluPlus via any compatible device, or through the embedded player below the cut.

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