The Exterminating Angel Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Following an opera, a collection of wealthy residents are due at a lavish estate for a dinner party. When the table is cleared and the piano tucked away, the guests put on their jackets and shawls. They head for the door, only to find they cannot leave.
The hours turn into days and the days into weeks, and soon everything and everyone starts to deteriorate as they wait for the invisible wall to crumble, someone to rescue them, or their death. Two lovers kill themselves. For water, the guests take an antique axe to the pipes. For food, some eat paper, while others roast a bear and a sheep—kept aside earlier by “the help” for entertainment—that come upon the room. They, as one compares the group early in the film, are rats in a sinking ship.
It is an apt description, one wholly symbolic of their situation. Still, there is little use analyzing most of the symbolism, although there could be some sort of game made of it. Director Luis Buñuel himself noted, “Everything was arbitrary. I only tried to evoke some sort of disturbing image,” he said. This, as was the case in many of his works, was a success, and THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, often unexpectedly, showcases some of the most peculiar images the director has ever put on film. (One wouldn’t be surprised to find if some, like the crawling hand or the chicken claw found in a guest’s purse, were conceived around the time of UN CHIEN ANDALOU.)
But there is a message here, whether intentional or not. While the guests are indeed physically trapped within a home, they are also mentally confined to their own mindsets and mores. They are being punished for who they have chosen to be and what they will continue to represent. These are the sort of people that laugh hysterically at a butler who makes a mess on the floor. Why, if he is one the one providing food? Because they always have. It is a habit to attend the opera and produce dinner parties, but it is destiny to be trapped.
Buñuel does generously give the guests the competence and cooperation they would probably normally be incapable of, but considering they are on Providence Street, it would appear that all final decisions have been made. That the guests do finally get out probably has less to do with them unlocking a riddle or overcoming their own character flaws than it does Buñuel saying, “OK, that’s enough for now.” The film has an incredibly amusing (some may say depraved) moment not long after when a group gets trapped in a different location, accompanied by the sight of a flock of sheep (the most blatant symbolism in the film).
Luis Buñuel was a master with a cunning vision and a wicked bite, a surrealist with an unmatched insight into what made so much of the world how it was and why it was often wrong and damaging. It may not seem like it at times, but THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is Buñuel at his most perceptive and most acute.
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine film scanner from a 35 mm duplicate negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”
While the overall image is pleasant and doesn’t show any damage, fans of Criterion and the film itself may be disappointed in the presentation, as the transfer doesn’t quite have the pizzazz they may be expecting. This is certainly an upgrade over the 2009 DVD, but it does little to wow.
Audio: Spanish Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was mastered from the 35 mm optical soundtrack prints. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Likewise, the audio has been touched up nicely but still has its flaws.
THE LAST SCRIPT: REMEMBERING LUIS BUNUEL (1:37:04): This stellar feature-length documentary released in 2008 looks at the life and career of Buñuel, with notable insights from scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and filmmaker Juan Luis Buñuel (the director’s son).
Silvia Pinal (10:15): Pinal, who appeared in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, VIRIDIANA and SIMON OF THE DESERT for Buñuel, sits down for a 2006 interview.
Arturo Ripstein (14:49): In this 2006 interview, director Ripstein discusses the influence Buñuel had on his career.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring an essay by film schlar Marsha Kinder and an interview with Luis Buñuel from the 1970s.