Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Luis Buñuel, 1962, Mexico)

The Valkyrie’s virginal spirit rises above the tempest of anarchy: as a socialite dinner party comes to an end, the guests inexplicably find themselves trapped by their own desire to escape, the music room a dirge as class distinction and reason are devoured by the subconscious. Director Luis Buñuel guides us through the labyrinthine convolutions of our brains, its electric impulses driving pure instinct as the guests struggle to rise above the animal and not be sheep led to slaughter. 

Buñuel's surreal and absurdist masterpiece examines social order and breaks down the elitist conventions to reveal base desires, addictions, incestuous relationships, and self-destructive motivations that imbue each of us, regardless of wealth or standing. He is more forgiving of the servants as they leave the party before it begins, and the one who stays behind fulfills his role until the very end, trying to assuage the suffering of the imprisoned. But they are comically trapped in a room without bars, the transition to the Dinning Room an open archway where they throw their trash…but are psychologically unable to pass through. Time becomes insubstantial like a morphine dream, and as one older man suffers a stroke, a couple locks themselves away to sleep forever. Their spilled blood awakens the brooding killer whose nervous hand has been lurking beneath the polite veneer of cultural mores…and a sacrifice must be made to appease this witchery. 

Buñuel films in beautiful black and white, moving his camera about the crowded room and is able to focus upon individuals while never being intrusive: it is a marvelous technical feat. The performances are inspired as the suspense and madness gradually escalates into believability, as friends turn upon each other consumed by bloodlust and revenge. The aristocrats eventually escape by mimicking their behavior after the fateful sonata; but they become trapped once again under the watchful eyes of their deity. Here in this sacred temple walks the Exterminating Angel whose darkness and decay holds dominion over all. 

Final Grade: (A)