El Ángel exterminador (1962)

25 02 2009

Unfortunately, at least so for my own sake, I don’t like Luis Buñuel quite as much as I did about two years ago. While I can still appreciate his absurd humor from time to time, I’m nowhere near as crazy about it as I once was, which is a little bit upsetting. I really wish I could have somehow sent the recent Criterion disc through a time machine to myself in 2007 as I’m sure I would have loved it. I can’t, though, but I still enjoyed this a great deal and it definitely ranks up there as one of Buñuel’s funniest and most immediately accessible efforts.

As much as I am reminded of what I love about Buñuel, I’m also reminded of the some of his elements that I never really liked in the first place. To begin, I don’t think any single film of his sticks out as being particularly nice on a visual level, and this one is no different. Some shots are nice, but nothing too special. Then again, I don’t think I’d ever describe Buñuel as a visual filmmaker. I suppose all filmmakers are inherently visually-driven, no matter how boring and bland their films look, but Buñuel’s strengths, to me, always laid in his careful depictions of the truly bizarre. In that case, there’s very few people better.

Back to problems, though: I get the feeling this Buñuel intended this to be a very (explict) metaphor for social classes in Mexico. The upper class are all going to go insane if those below them (in this case, the residential servants) disappear. With that out of the way, the story here really is fantastic. It’s pretty much Abigail’s Party raised up ten levels to be better suited into a very Buñuel-ian universe. The extremely awkward tension in Leigh’s film is replaced by the deadpan absurdity that is, without a doubt, one of my favorite elements of Buñuel’s cinema. Certain sequences involving sheep and bears wouldn’t be nearly as funny had they not been attacked with the surrealistic vision of say, David Lynch.

In fact, it took only one viewing of this film to realize that the connections between Lynch and Buñuel are actually few and far between. Perhaps the largest link is that they both work with bizarre ideas, but now, it seems to me like the way these approach their content is completely different. With Lynch I get a very self-aware sense of weirdness, almost akin to a giant finger pointing at grotestque imagery and shouting “look how weird and crazy and unconventional this is!” Buñuel, on the other hand, does the polar opposite. He observes, from an emotional distance, the line between real life and his world, and the absurdity that comes when such a line appears extremely funny. In other words, he’s a realist’s idea of surrealism and I like that a lot.

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One response

25 02 2009
Allison

Exterminating Angel was never my favorite Bunuel. I love him still I think. But this one just wasn’t that fun.

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