Cast & Crew
During a formal dinner party at the home of Señor Nobile and his wife, Lucia, the servants unaccountably leave their posts until only the major-domo is left. After dinner, the guests adjourn to the music room where one of the women plays a piano sonata. Later, instead of leaving, the guests remove their jackets, loosen their gowns, and settle down for the night. By morning it is apparent that for some inexplicable reason, they are trapped in the room. Days pass, and their plight intensifies; they become quarrelsome, hostile, and hysterical. One of the guests, Russell, dies and his body is placed in a large cupboard; Béatriz and Eduardo, a young couple about to be married, lock themselves in a closet and commit suicide; a sheep is slaughtered and roasted on a fire made from floorboards; the host gives his secret supply of morphine to Leonora, whose physician, another guest, reveals to others that she is dying of cancer, but the drugs are stolen by Francisco and Juana, an incestuous brother and sister; and Ana, a practitioner of witchcraft, invokes the demons of hell while lapsing into feverish hallucinations. Eventually, Raúl suggests that Nobile is responsible for their predicament and that he must be sacrificed. As Nobile offers to take his own life, Letitia sees that they are all in the same positions as when their plight began. Obeying her instructions, they retrace their conversation and movements and discover that they are free to leave the room. To celebrate their salvation, the guests attend mass at the cathedral. When the service is over, they find that they, along with the priest and the entire congregation, are once again trapped.
César Del Campo
Rosa Elena Durgel
Enrique García Alvarez
Nadia Haro Oliva
Patricia De Morelos
Guillermo Alvarez Bianchi
Eric Del Castillo
David Hayyad Cohen
Juan Luis Buñuel
José B. Carles
James L. Fields
Juan Muñoz Ravelo
Pietro Domenico Paradisi
Nicolas Rueda Jr.
Herman G. Weinberg
The Exterminating Angel - Luis Bunuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL on DVD
At about 4 a.m., we start to see party guests try to leave with no luck. Formal wear begins to be shed. Things begin to unravel. The beginning of the night was punctuated with the sounds of polite conversation, but within a matter of hours, the guests are urinating in the vases. Brought down low by his lack of high class cushions (money, status, fame, etc.), we see one wealthy character reduced to rooting around in trash with his quality-made cane, looking for the bare essentials of human needs, food and water. Culture, manners, etiquette, ideas and social hierarchies that took generations to develop and recognize degenerate in a matter of hours. One interviewer noted to Buñuel that "there is a kind of joy in seeing how this society, which has taken centuries to reach such a high level, can completely undo itself within an hour and a half of screen time, literally self-destructing before your very eyes." [Buñuel's savage attack on Western civilization class codes heavily influenced Jean-Luc Godard's own satiric film on the bourgeois, Weekend (1967).] Buñuel utilized an experimental structure that jumped off from Freud's dream-work theory where the underlying images - those picked up by the subconscious - are valued as "a source of discovery and subversion", as the liner notes state. According to Buñuel, "There are around twenty repetitions in the film, but some are more noticeable than others." These repetitions - which would be marked as continuity errors in any other film - are used by Buñuel to cut into the high-minded luxury and ease of the higher-class by subjugating their dinner party story with a terribly skewed, non-linear narrative. The viewer, unsettled and uncomfortable with this story that does not obey laws of time, space and filmic language, is implicated along with the dinner party guests.
Buñuel made The Exterminating Angel at the end of his eighteen year tenure in Mexico when he had complete artistic control. He came to Mexico in 1946, after having been fired from New York's Museum of Modern Art for allegedly being a communist. From 1946 to 1964, Buñuel made twenty films, all intended for commercial exhibition, with very little money and time. But The Exterminating Angel stands apart from them as a more personal work, coming at a key point in Buñuel's career, after the scandalous reception in Spain of his previous film, Viridiana (1964). That film was condemned by the Vatican for sacrilege, subsequently banned in Spain, and created difficulties for Buñuel in getting projects off the ground. Landing in Mexico, Buñuel was determined to demonstrate what could be done with complete artistic freedom, even as an exile. Fortunately, that artistic freedom was bankrolled by producer Gustavo Alatriste, the husband of Sylvia Pinal, whom Buñuel had cast in Viridiana and in The Exterminating Angel. Alatriste had complete confidence in Buñuel to deliver a striking work within budget and on time and allowed him to work without interference. Buñuel said in an interview, "I had all the freedom in the world. (Alatriste) didn't take anything out or tell me to put in this or that. In fact he hadn't even seen the script. The only thing I told him was that it was about some people who, for no apparent reason, cannot leave a room. 'Go ahead,' he told me. 'Do what you want.'" Coming off the heels of the stormy reception of Viridiana, Alatriste's hands-off approach is remarkable. Perhaps this style was for the best, as any producer would be a bit concerned when the director is wielding firearms on the set: when Buñuel filmed the scenes involving the bear, the director was ready to take measures, should his actor not behave properly. "I was prepared with a .44 Magnum revolver. We closed all the doors. The small salon with the guests in the scene and the camera were all in front of a five-foot barrier. I told [Gabriel] Figueroa, 'Camera!' and they let the bear loose. He suddenly felt like climbing a column, and we all ran out, including me and my .44 Magnum. If the bear had jumped over the barrier and really threatened us, I would have shot. But I don't like to kill animals, so we all ran out."
Criterion's two-disc DVD includes The Last Script: Remembering Luis Buñuel, a 2008 documentary featuring screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and director Juan Luis Buñuel, the famed filmmaker's son. The feature-length documentary covers all of Buñuel's remarkable career spent in France, England, Spain, New York, Hollywood and Mexico, making films like Un Chien Andalou (1929), L'age d'or (1930), Simon of the Desert (1965), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). The DVD also included new interviews with actress Silvia Pinal and filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, and a booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Marsha Kinder and an interview with Buñuel from the 1970s.
For more information about The Exterminating Angel, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Exterminating Angel, go to TCM Shopping.
by Scott McGee
The Exterminating Angel - Luis Bunuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL on DVD
The Exterminating Angel
Made ten years before The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962) mirrors some of the situations and themes of that director's 1972 masterpiece, particularly in its contempt for the idle rich and its unique mixture of surrealism and black comedy. Although Bunuel would later regard The Exterminating Angel as a disappointment, many film historians consider it one of the essential masterworks in the director's oeuvre, second only to L'Age d'or (1930). While The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was a more polished and sophisticated production filmed in France - in color and Cinemascope - and featured a cast of renowned European actors (Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Stephane Audran, et al), The Exterminating Angel is arguably the more impactful film with its starkly realistic black-and-white cinematography by the great Gabriel Figueroa, the lack of a music score and its unrelenting attack on organized religion, bourgeois values and other targets, rendered in imagery that still has the power to shock.
According to Bunuel, the title came from the Bible but it was also a reference to both a Spanish cult, the apostolics of 1828, and a group of Mormons. He also loved the sound of it. As he stated in his autobiography, My Last Sigh, "If I saw The Exterminating Angel on a marquee, I'd go in and see it on the spot." (Another source claims the working title was actually The Castaways of Providence Street but was changed to The Exterminating Angel, the proposed name for a play by Bunuel's friend, Jose Bergamin, that was never written). As for the story, the director mostly improvised as he went along, embellishing the basic situation with stylistic decisions - the use of repetition, a circular narrative structure and autobiographical details. Bunuel liked repetition in his films because of its hypnotic and dreamlike effect and stated in an interview with Tomas Perez Turrent that "When I finished the editing [on The Exterminating Angel], Gabriel Figueroa, the cinematographer, rushed up to me very alarmed: 'Listen sir, there's something wrong with the print. A scene is repeated. The editor must have made a mistake." I told him, "But Gabriel, I always do my own editing. Besides, you were my cinematographer and you know that when we repeated the scene, we shot it from another angle. I repeated the scene on purpose..." "Ah, now I see," he said, but he looked really frightened."
In My Last Sigh, Bunuel also revealed "there are many things in the film taken directly from life. I went to a large dinner party in New York where the hostess had decided to amuse her guests by staging various surprises: for example, a waiter who stretched out to take a nap on the carpet in the middle of dinner while he was carrying a tray of food. (In the film, of course, the guests don't find his antics quite so amusing.) She also brought in a bear and two sheep."
One reason Bunuel was disappointed with the completed version of The Exterminating Angel is because it didn't go far enough. He felt he censored himself and if he remade it he "would leave the people locked up for a month, to the point where they would resort to cannibalism and fighting to the death, in order to show, perhaps, that aggression is innate." He also felt hampered by the low budget, stating in his autobiography, "Despite the beauty of the house where it was shot and my effort to select actors who didn't look particularly Mexican, there was a certain tawdriness in many of its aspects. We couldn't get any really fine table napkins, for instance, and the only one I could show on camera was borrowed from the makeup artist." Nevertheless, Bunuel still delighted in confounding critics and moviegoers who tried to interpret the film's meaning. For one scene, Bunuel said, "It suddenly occurred to me that Silvia [Rosa Elena Durgel] should tie a blindfold around the sheep's eyes and hand Nobile [Enrique Rambal] the dagger. And that was that. Completely improvised, without any thought to whether anything was symbolic. A good symbol of nothing. Despite this, several critics gave various interpretations of the scene. The sheep represented Christianity, the knife, blasphemy...I intended none of that, everything was arbitrary. I only tried to evoke some sort of disturbing image."
One unforgettable image - in a dream sequence - was that of a crawling severed hand, a popular visual motif for Bunuel. He used it as the basis for his aborted 1946 Hollywood film for Warner Bros., The Beast with Five Fingers (he left the project and Robert Florey completed it). He also introduced it in Un Chien Andalou (1929), his landmark surrealistic short (a collaboration with artist Salvador Dali) that opens with an eyeball being slit with a straight razor before moving on to a scene of ants devouring a severed hand.
When The Exterminating Angel was screened at the Cannes Film Festival it was coolly received. Biographer Francisco Aranda wrote in his book, Luis Bunuel, "...when the critics at the Cannes press conference asked Juan Luis why there is a bear in the film, wandering through a smart party, he answered, "Because my father likes bears." It's true. There are those who interpret the bear as the Soviet Union about to devour the bourgeoisie. That is nonsense. Then they asked him what was the meaning of the repetitions of shots in the film. I had anticipated this and told Juan Luis: "Answer that when I finished the film I decided it was still short, so to lengthen it..." People always want an explanation for everything. It is the consequence of centuries of bourgeois education. And for everything for which they cannot find an explanation, they resort in the last instance to God. But what is the use of that to them? Eventually they have to explain God."
Producer: Gustavo Alatriste
Director: Luis Bunuel
Screenplay: Luis Alcoriza, Jose Bergamin, Luis Bunuel
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Film Editing: Carlos Savage
Art Direction: Jesus Bracho
Music: Raul Lavista
Cast: Silvia Pinal (Leticia `La Valkiria¿), Enrique Rambal (Edmundo Nobile), Claudio Brook (Julio), Jose Baviera (Leandro Gomez), Augusto Benedico (Carlos Conde), Antonio Bravo (Sergio Russell).
by Jeff Stafford
The Exterminating Angel
In the church scene - the first scene of the movie to be shot - Rita Macedo appears as "Lucia de Nobile". She was not able to complete the film due to her pregnancy.
Released in Mexico in May 1962 as El ángel exterminador; running time: 95 min. Music also includes Gregorian chants of the Te Deum.
Winner of the International Critics Pprize at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.
Released in United States 1962
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States September 10, 1963
Released in United States October 12, 1974
Released in United States December 21, 1990
Released in United States 2000
Released in United States 2011
Shown at 1962 Sestri Levante Festival.
Shown at 1963 Montreal Film Festival.
Shown at New York Film Festival (Retrospective) September 10, 1963.
Shown at New York Film Festival (Homage to Bunuel) October 12, 1974.
Released in United States 1962 (Shown at 1962 Sestri Levante Festival.)
Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA December 21, 1990.
Shown at Melbourne International Film Festival (Sidebar) July 19 - August 6, 2000.
Released in United States 1963 (Shown at 1963 Montreal Film Festival.)
Released in United States September 10, 1963 (Shown at New York Film Festival (Retrospective) September 10, 1963.)
Released in United States October 12, 1974 (Shown at New York Film Festival (Homage to Bunuel) October 12, 1974.)
Released in United States December 21, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA December 21, 1990.)
Released in United States 2000 (Shown at Melbourne International Film Festival (Sidebar) July 19 - August 6, 2000.)
Released in United States 2011 (50 Years of the New York Film Festival)