Luis Bu˝uel's 1962 surrealist masterpiece is, on the surface at least, a very simple movie. It's very remise is nothing if not basic. It's what the movie does with that most rudimentary of ideas that makes it so impressive. Really, at its core, the film is nothing more than a dinner party. A group of upper crust socialites arrive at a beautiful mansion for a dinner party. We see them enter twice, from two different angles, an early indicator of the film's duplicitous nature. Repetition soon becomes a prominent theme in the film.
The guests are about to sit down to eat but before they do, the servants and kitchen staff take off leaving the mistress of the house understandably angry. She's upset not only because she'd planned on having the help around for the meal, but also for the after dinner entertainment wherein they'd assist in a live show involving a bear and some sheep. Regardless, the guests enjoy themselves as they feast, gossip and make digs subtle and not so subtle throughout the conversation. It's clear that we're not meant to like these people, as there's very little that's likeable about any of them. Don't think for a second that isn't intentional.
The meal ends and they retire to a sitting room wherein one of the men, a doctor, tells one of the female guests she has only a week left to enjoy her hair, he predicts she will soon go bald. The party goes on into the night as parties often do and, just as it would be at any other social gathering, people eventually tire and prepare to leave. The difference here is that they can't. They go through the motions, even going so far as to get their coats and walk towards the exit, but they never do it. Likewise, no one is able to enter the house, no the military, not a simple child. They can't come in. For reasons never made obvious to the audience, these characters are trapped in the house and completely shut off from the outside world. Eventually they simply accept it and they decide to settle in for the evening and spend the night. As this plays out, their true personalities come to light and we realize that they're not just unlikeable, no, many of them are quite sinister, maybe even evil. And the hours turn into days, and the days and there is no exit, no end game, in sightů chaos erupts and high society soon begets anarchy.
The director's tendencies to hold up a magnifying glass to the hypocrisies he saw in the bourgeois class was a big part in almost all of his films but here it is the central core. By placing these characters in what you could say is their natural environment, a high class social event complete with all the trimmings, Bu˝uel is able to peel back the layers of the different characters and show them for the money grubbing nihilists he well and truly believed many of the upper class to be. It's a fascinating picture loaded with pitch black comedy and a whole lot of bizarre, even morbid, detail. The more times you see the film, the more you get out of it. You'll pick up on things on repeat viewings that you didn't notice the first, second or even third time around. There's a lot of symbolism here, and as you grow accustomed to the director's style and take in more of his filmed output, the comedy seems more effective. Without going on a political diatribe, in many ways this film, clearly a thinly veiled attack on those who held the political and financial power in the director's native Spain (from which he was exiled) under Franco's rule, is more relevant than ever. These people cannot leave the party, and clearly the party in this instance isn't just meant to be a gathering of people intent on revelry.
Gabriel Figueroa's cinematography is beautiful, bizarre and striking and the black and white photography does an excellent job of capturing the mood and atmosphere that the director manages to conjure up. The performances are all spot on, embodying all the traits you would expect given the premise and the characters that populate this strange story. It comes together remarkably well, and it winds up a picture that is as thought provoking and enthralling as it is bizarre and, at times, disturbing.The Blu-ray
The Exterminating Angel arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in high definition for the first time. This was not advertised as a new scan as many of the label's releases are, and you do have to wonder if this is the same transfer used for the DVD release, albeit given a fair bit more breathing room and presented in proper 1080p high definition instead of down-converted to standard definition. This is an improvement over that DVD but not a massive one. Obviously there's less compression which is always a plus, but the uptick in detail (and there is one) won't leave your jaw on the floor. Grain appears more prominent and provides better texture without overpowering the picture. This is more film-like than the DVD. The image is in nice shape, showing very little in the way of print damage, scratches, dirt or debris. Black levels are fine and contrast looks good. This looks alright, but some may be disappointed that it didn't look a little better (as it probably could have if it had been afforded a new scan).Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an Spanish language LPCM Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH only. The audio here is just fine. Dialogue is clean and properly balanced against the score and effects. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and both the score and the various foley effects employed in the picture sound just fine. This is understandably limited in range by the original elements but there's little room to complain, things sound good here.Extras:
Extras start off with some interesting featurettes starting an interview with actress Silvia Pinal that runs ten minutes. Her interview is quite interesting as she talks about what it was like on set, trying to make sense out of the script and what it was like working with Bu˝uel and his directing style. Additionally we get an interview with filmmaker Arturo Ripstein that runs fifteen minutes. He speaks about working alongside Bu˝uel as his assistant director on this picture, how he got to know Bu˝uel in the first place and the influence that the man had on his own career. Both of these are from the older DVD release and have been carried over for this Blu-ray release. Also carried over from the older Criterion DVD release is the feature length The Last Script: Remembering Luis Bu˝uel documentary that runs roughly an hour and forty minutes. This piece follows Jean-Claude CarriŔre and Juan Luis Bu˝uel, the director's son, as they explore various locations used throughout the man's filmography. Along the way they put these locations into historical context and share some interesting stories and memories of the man from both personal and professional perspectives. There are a lot of interesting stories here, if you haven't seen this before by way of the older DVD release and you're a fan of Bu˝uel be sure to take the time to give this a watch.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase along with the disc is an insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release as well as an essay on the film written by Marsha Kinder and an interview with Luis Bu˝uel from the 1970s.Final Thoughts:
The Exterminating Angel is a wildly impressive film, a veritable masterpiece of experimental narrative structure and surrealism. It's a film that not only holds up upon repeat viewings, but rewards them. Criterion's Blu-ray release gives the film a modest upgrade in the audio and video departments compared to the previous DVD edition and carries over all of the supplements without adding anything new to the mix. Easy to give the highly recommended rating to based on the strength of the film itself but some will be left irked that there wasn't more TLC put into this particular release.