Combustible Celluloid
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With: Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, José Baviera, Augusto Benedico, Luis Beristáin, Antonio Bravo, Claudio Brook, César del Campo, Rosa Elena Durgel, Lucy Gallardo, Enrique García Álvarez, Ofelia Guilmáin and Nadia Haro Olivia
Written by: Luis Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza, from the play by José Bergamín
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/01/1962

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Guests That Couldn't Leave

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Luis Buñuel released his first feature film, L'age d'Or, in 1930, it caused rioting in the streets. By 1962, he was considered a Great Filmmaker the world over. When The Exterminating Angel was released, it was hailed as a classic, even though nobody knew what it meant.

I watched it and I don't know what it means either, but it's a hell of a movie. You can't take your eyes off it. (The beautiful black and white photography is by Gabriel Figueroa.) It's about a bunch of upper class folks who go to a dinner party. All the servants leave before the party begins. Some scenes and lines of dialogue are repeated. When it comes time for the party to end, the guests decide to crash on the floor instead of leaving.

As time goes on, the guests find they can't leave. People die, starve, and make love. A water main is broken to quench their thirsts. The room begins to smell. People on the outside find they can't come inside, either. Finally, the "virgin" character has a great idea, everyone picks up where they left off and the spell is broken. Then the movie has a really weird ending.

Some people saw this as a metaphor for the church. I say it's one of those movies that you can read anything into. It could be a metaphor for my life. (Boy would that suck.) Either way, The Exterminating Angel is a dreamlike movie that's an amazing achievement for a filmmaker who came into his own at the age of 61. (It's also one of the greatest titles in the history of movies.) All I can say is, see it, because it's a real experience, and a great movie.

Note: Twelve years after I wrote that breathless review above, the Criterion Collection has released this essential film on a two-disc DVD set. There's no commentary track, but we get a very good liner notes essay by film scholar Marsha Kinder, a print interview with Bunuel, a documentary, an interview with actress Pinal, an interview with filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, and a trailer.

In 2016, Criterion gave us a Blu-ray edition; it's supposed to be a new high-definition transfer with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, and it's all more than adequate, but die-hard videophiles will probably notice that it's not quite flawless. Not to mention that the movie itself is well worth watching under any conditions. The extras appear to be about the same, except all on one disc.

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