459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#126 Post by Orlac » Thu Dec 08, 2016 1:21 pm


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The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#127 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 15, 2018 6:47 am

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#128 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 15, 2018 6:51 am

This week's film is the winner of the winner of our last Auteur List project. Many thanks to domino for putting that together.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#129 Post by ando » Sun Jan 21, 2018 1:51 am

This is my favorite Buñuel film yet I find it hard to critique because he doesn't give you an easy way in - and an even harder way out. Ha. First of all, I think you need to have a measure of compassion for these excessively self-involved, entitled people to maintain interest in their plight. It's really not enough to say, Ok, let's see how Luis pokes fun at this latest pack of bougois bores. You have to put yourself in the party of guests. Now, would you leave with the servants (the smart ones smell something foul early on) or take up the invitation? If the question is irrelevant to an audience I believe Buñuel has already lost them. If however, a properly intrigued audience stays for the duration there's an exploration of the human spirit that goes quite beyond what, say, Hitchcock might do with a similar set-up. The crowd is similar to one Hitch would explore but the mcguffin would be absolutely central and completely beside the point of the gathering. But the play of characters is hinged upon the external situation. With Buñuel you get all the anxiety without a mcguffin so there's no external recourse or even reference from which to act and (to echo Sartre) no clear exit.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#130 Post by zedz » Sun Jan 21, 2018 3:23 pm

One of the things I most appreciate about the film is that its satire is simultaneously obvious and elusive. Bunuel couldn't make his central metaphor clearer (bourgeois life as a trap), but at the granular level the details are left mysterious. So the film remains lively and surprising where it could have been schematic, with every incident and instance of behaviour tied neatly down to a satirical or allegorical or political point (as you get in the clearest Hitchcock analogue, Lifeboat).

Thinking about that comparison a little, I think one of the strengths of Bunuel's film in comparison to Hitchcock's is the lack of individualization in The Exterminating Angel. In Lifeboat, we're presented with a bunch of clearly delineated types, intended to represent society; in Exterminating Angel, we're simply presented with (a strata of) society itself, and it's much easier for us to insert ourselves into that relatively amorphous dinner party than into that crowded lifeboat.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#131 Post by ando » Sun Jan 21, 2018 10:24 pm

zedz wrote:One of the things I most appreciate about the film is that its satire is simultaneously obvious and elusive. Bunuel couldn't make his central metaphor clearer (bourgeois life as a trap), but at the granular level the details are left mysterious. So the film remains lively and surprising where it could have been schematic, with every incident and instance of behaviour tied neatly down to a satirical or allegorical or political point (as you get in the clearest Hitchcock analogue, Lifeboat).

Thinking about that comparison a little, I think one of the strengths of Bunuel's film in comparison to Hitchcock's is the lack of individualization in The Exterminating Angel. In Lifeboat, we're presented with a bunch of clearly delineated types, intended to represent society; in Exterminating Angel, we're simply presented with (a strata of) society itself, and it's much easier for us to insert ourselves into that relatively amorphous dinner party than into that crowded lifeboat.
Interesting Hitch comp. Lifeboat certainly has an obvious source of anxiety for the characters in their particular situation which allows Hitch to focus on minutiae in the environment but I'd say that there are equally defined types among the guests in Angel as Lifeboat, especially for Mexicans, though particulars are indeed elided in order to emphasize their existential dilemma. Otherwise, the dinner party gathering might have resembled a psych ward.

The Hitch comp that I initially had in mind was Rope; because of the similar physical setting and the type of bougois gathering. Hitchcock's Mcguffin (the murdered young man just beneath the dinner table) enables him to make fun of the disturbing obsession of murder among these "respectable"/superior types who fail to recognize real murderers among them or worse; real human life becomes irrelevant to their preoccupations. But they can escape their immediate physical situation because they're not forced to face themselves - the two young murderers' ruse is almost wholly successful. Buñuel prevents his guests from leaving so they must consider their physical and psychological condition and shows the audience that they're actually the same. The characters themselves remain oblivious to their own psychic dilemma but it provides the ground upon which Buñuel can play. Hitch's characters leave the apartment believing in their individual agency. Buñuel strips them of it utterly. It's how he's able to make a severed hand (symbol of human agency) scampering across the room as threatening (and humourous) as a hungry tarantula. The hand, with no class or clear racial associations, is able to come and go but the guests can't.

What's never been clear to me is the role of Sylvia Pinal's character in extricating the group from their situation. And it's obviously on what the film's resolution depends! What I'm guessing is that Pinal's character embodies the figure of the Virgin Mary in that community - meaning, broadly, the middle classes of the Spanish diaspora. It's admittedly a big statement but, I also believe a personal one for Buñuel and a specific one in terms of his attempt at a filmic resolution.
Buñuel wrote:You know, I don't have a high opinion of Christ, but I think the world of Mary.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#132 Post by Sloper » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:48 am

zedz wrote:One of the things I most appreciate about the film is that its satire is simultaneously obvious and elusive. Bunuel couldn't make his central metaphor clearer (bourgeois life as a trap), but at the granular level the details are left mysterious.
It’s sort of the flip-side of the trap described in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: there, the futile quest to complete a series of empty rituals involves constant interruptions and constant movement from one place to another, an unending journey along an open road that leads nowhere. In Angel, rather than being unable to perform the rituals, they’re unable to stop performing them: they enter the house twice, Edmundo gives the same toast twice, other phrases are repeated compulsively (‘unkemptness becomes you’, ‘completely bald’), and the party literally refuses to end.

There’s a lot of talk (and imagery) relating to limits, boundaries and thresholds in this film. Buñuel often plays around with the boundaries between the real and unreal, waking life and dreams, the rational and the irrational, and I think the reason Angel works so well is that it takes a scenario – a bourgeois dinner party – that is fundamentally defined by boundaries that are both strictly defined and utterly fluid, and then has 90 minutes of scary, gruesome fun playing around with that paradox. The central conceit is an inspired way of exploring these contradictions. The characters are trapped, but because they are trapped anything goes; and even as they descend into bestial violence, in some ways they don’t seem to change at all.

At the start, Lucia orchestrates a joke (the servant tripping and dropping the food) which is meant to be transgressive enough to be amusing, but not so transgressive as to be disturbing. When one guest is offended by the joke, she quickly runs to the kitchen to cancel the marauding bear and sheep, and while this shows her consummate discretion as a hostess, it also indicates how easily the bounds of discretion can be violated, even by a practised socialite. The guests are polite and orderly, but also snipe at each other and say unpatriotic things. Once the curse gets underway, some of them start to take their clothes off (‘that’s a bit much – after all, there are limits’), but the others maintain a sense of discretion (‘if we weren’t guests, I’d challenge him for such rudeness’; ‘let’s take our clothes off to lessen their embarrassment’). They all stink, but most of them have the good grace not to mention it; but when one of them does lash out about it, this only seems like an amplified form of the hostility we’ve been aware of from the beginning – again, the outbreaks of violence in Discreet Charm have a similar effect.
ando wrote:What's never been clear to me is the role of Sylvia Pinal's character in extricating the group from their situation. And it's obviously on what the film's resolution depends! What I'm guessing is that Pinal's character embodies the figure of the Virgin Mary
At the start, we learn that she maintains her virginity in what is described as a form of ‘perversion’, but as you suggest I think we’re free to see Leticia in a more exalted light than these leering men do. If her virginity associates her with Mary, it’s also worth considering her designation as a ‘Valkyrie’ – a different kind of godlike figure, warlike and ferocious, tasked with leading heroes to their death and thence to a glorious afterlife – and the fact that her name denotes happiness, or joy. I think I’m right in saying that she’s the last of the guests to enter the cursed drawing room (Julio is the last character to enter, which is interesting), and before she does so she throws something through a window for no apparent reason. One of the men comments that this must have been a ‘passing Jew’, but another says ‘no, it was the Valkyrie’. A key function of this exchange is to underline that this threshold-violating moment came from within, not from without, and it tells us something important about Leticia. She is one of them, but also an outsider. Throughout the film, she has the air of being ‘above’ and apart from the others, much as Pinal’s Viridiana seemed out of step with her tawdry, corrupt and convention-bound surroundings (I think Pinal would have made a great Isabella in Measure for Measure). Leticia, despite not saying or doing very much, or perhaps because of this, seems wiser and more self-aware than the other characters. I can’t really figure out a coherent overall interpretation of her role, but it just kind of makes sense that she’s the one to figure out how to escape from the drawing room.

However, I disagree that she ‘extricates the group from their situation’. A bit like a Valkyrie, she merely gathers them up and transfers them from one plane of existence to another, higher one – from the trap of social ritual to the trap of religious ritual. If the former is a trap by virtue of its repetitious character, it seems a bit fishy that they can only escape through one collective act of repetition. This is a completion of the initial phase of the curse, not a liberation from it. Whatever perverse form of Providence is overseeing these people’s fates, it seems to use the confinement in the drawing room as a way of priming them, before using them as the instrument to entrap an entire congregation, along with the priests. The drawing-room prisoners had three sheep sent to them, to draw out their degradation and suffering; the churchgoers get an entire flock. And who knows where the curse will go from here? The rioting outside the church, with the soldiers surrounding and entrapping the unruly hordes, suggests that this nightmare will go on expanding until it encompasses the whole world, hence the film’s apocalyptic title.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#133 Post by ando » Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:01 am

Sloper wrote:
zedz wrote:One of the things I most appreciate about the film is that its satire is simultaneously obvious and elusive. Bunuel couldn't make his central metaphor clearer (bourgeois life as a trap), but at the granular level the details are left mysterious.
It’s sort of the flip-side of the trap described in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: there, the futile quest to complete a series of empty rituals involves constant interruptions and constant movement from one place to another, an unending journey along an open road that leads nowhere. In Angel, rather than being unable to perform the rituals, they’re unable to stop performing them: they enter the house twice, Edmundo gives the same toast twice, other phrases are repeated compulsively (‘unkemptness becomes you’, ‘completely bald’), and the party literally refuses to end.

There’s a lot of talk (and imagery) relating to limits, boundaries and thresholds in this film. Buñuel often plays around with the boundaries between the real and unreal, waking life and dreams, the rational and the irrational, and I think the reason Angel works so well is that it takes a scenario – a bourgeois dinner party – that is fundamentally defined by boundaries that are both strictly defined and utterly fluid, and then has 90 minutes of scary, gruesome fun playing around with that paradox. The central conceit is an inspired way of exploring these contradictions. The characters are trapped, but because they are trapped anything goes; and even as they descend into bestial violence, in some ways they don’t seem to change at all.

At the start, Lucia orchestrates a joke (the servant tripping and dropping the food) which is meant to be transgressive enough to be amusing, but not so transgressive as to be disturbing. When one guest is offended by the joke, she quickly runs to the kitchen to cancel the marauding bear and sheep, and while this shows her consummate discretion as a hostess, it also indicates how easily the bounds of discretion can be violated, even by a practised socialite. The guests are polite and orderly, but also snipe at each other and say unpatriotic things. Once the curse gets underway, some of them start to take their clothes off (‘that’s a bit much – after all, there are limits’), but the others maintain a sense of discretion (‘if we weren’t guests, I’d challenge him for such rudeness’; ‘let’s take our clothes off to lessen their embarrassment’). They all stink, but most of them have the good grace not to mention it; but when one of them does lash out about it, this only seems like an amplified form of the hostility we’ve been aware of from the beginning – again, the outbreaks of violence in Discreet Charm have a similar effect.
ando wrote:What's never been clear to me is the role of Sylvia Pinal's character in extricating the group from their situation. And it's obviously on what the film's resolution depends! What I'm guessing is that Pinal's character embodies the figure of the Virgin Mary
At the start, we learn that she maintains her virginity in what is described as a form of ‘perversion’, but as you suggest I think we’re free to see Leticia in a more exalted light than these leering men do. If her virginity associates her with Mary, it’s also worth considering her designation as a ‘Valkyrie’ – a different kind of godlike figure, warlike and ferocious, tasked with leading heroes to their death and thence to a glorious afterlife – and the fact that her name denotes happiness, or joy. I think I’m right in saying that she’s the last of the guests to enter the cursed drawing room (Julio is the last character to enter, which is interesting), and before she does so she throws something through a window for no apparent reason. One of the men comments that this must have been a ‘passing Jew’, but another says ‘no, it was the Valkyrie’. A key function of this exchange is to underline that this threshold-violating moment came from within, not from without, and it tells us something important about Leticia. She is one of them, but also an outsider. Throughout the film, she has the air of being ‘above’ and apart from the others, much as Pinal’s Viridiana seemed out of step with her tawdry, corrupt and convention-bound surroundings (I think Pinal would have made a great Isabella in Measure for Measure). Leticia, despite not saying or doing very much, or perhaps because of this, seems wiser and more self-aware than the other characters. I can’t really figure out a coherent overall interpretation of her role, but it just kind of makes sense that she’s the one to figure out how to escape from the drawing room.

However, I disagree that she ‘extricates the group from their situation’. A bit like a Valkyrie, she merely gathers them up and transfers them from one plane of existence to another, higher one – from the trap of social ritual to the trap of religious ritual. If the former is a trap by virtue of its repetitious character, it seems a bit fishy that they can only escape through one collective act of repetition. This is a completion of the initial phase of the curse, not a liberation from it. Whatever perverse form of Providence is overseeing these people’s fates, it seems to use the confinement in the drawing room as a way of priming them, before using them as the instrument to entrap an entire congregation, along with the priests. The drawing-room prisoners had three sheep sent to them, to draw out their degradation and suffering; the churchgoers get an entire flock. And who knows where the curse will go from here? The rioting outside the church, with the soldiers surrounding and entrapping the unruly hordes, suggests that this nightmare will go on expanding until it encompasses the whole world, hence the film’s apocalyptic title.
Interesting responses. The main issue I have with your overall impression is your insistence that Buñuel has created a portrait of the Mexican Bourgoise as a trap. Where can you go with such a situation that is established so early on? I don't see the psychic boundary with which the dinner party finds themselves beset as "utterly fluid". That they are strictly defined is more or less obvious but how are they fluid?

The dinner party certainly does swap one set of chains for another in their refuge to the church but I see their "deliverance" in the person of Lucia. My point was that she extricated them from their immediate physical situation though their essential psychic condition remains the same - in a larger room, if you will. I don't believe Buñuel is even interested in considering going beyond all symbols and ideas for some ultimate truth or, in fact, considering the serious limitations of bourgeois assumptions on the human psyche. As you point out he mostly plays within the sphere of their neuroticism. Since there is no real opening despite the fact that they're eventually led past the drawing room doors the film is often as tediuos as it is fun - entirely deliberate, no doubt.

I like your Valkyrie analogy but I feel there's something more specific to the figure of the Virgin Mary that Buñuel felt was tailored to this situation and that only she (including the historical/religious worship of her in that community) could ameliorate.

And had I not seen Kate Nelligan as the nun in the '79 BBC film version of Measure I'd be inclined to agree with you about Pinal in that role. Nelligan has a sort of in-bred and unforced self-righteousness that serves the part well. Pinal might have had to put some of that on in order to counter Angelo with something beside spleen (which she certainly had - to wit: Simon of the Dessert).

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#134 Post by Sloper » Sat Jan 27, 2018 5:45 am

ando wrote:The main issue I have with your overall impression is your insistence that Buñuel has created a portrait of the Mexican Bourgoise as a trap. Where can you go with such a situation that is established so early on? I don't see the psychic boundary with which the dinner party finds themselves beset as "utterly fluid". That they are strictly defined is more or less obvious but how are they fluid?
Hypothetically, the film could have shown these characters trapped in the room but never openly acknowledging the trap. They could just go on finding little excuses to stay there, and adhere religiously to the laws of decorum that define them as a class - this does happen to some extent, in the drawing room and in the church. Edmundo says at one point, 'I trust in their discretion', and up to a point this trust is rewarded; they never actually get around to murdering him. Another hypothetical alternative: all the guests forget how to be civilised and end up raping, killing and cannibalising each other.

Instead of either of these scenarios, we get what I'm referring to as 'fluidity'. The reality of what's happening is acknowledged, right down to the stench of the makeshift toilet in the cupboard and the growing desire certain guests have to carry out a human sacrifice; but the rules of the bourgeois game are never entirely forgotten or abandoned. So for instance, even one of the 'strongest' and most chivalrous men at the party is reduced to hurling a woman across the room in a fit of impatience. A moment later he apologises very gallantly, and kisses her hand, but she doesn't really seem to accept this apology - these civilised people don't just turn into animals and forget all their training, but these outbursts of violence are not just momentary lapses either.

I like Nelligan in the BBC Measure for Measure, but I think that Pinal could convey the same level of righteous integrity. I don't actually think Isabella is self-righteous, though I know a lot of people see her (and Viridiana, I guess) in this light. She has integrity, and strong principles, but no illusions (unlike Angelo) about being better than everyone else - which, paradoxically, is what makes her seem better than everyone else... It seems to me that Pinal combines all these qualities beautifully in Viridiana and Angel. I still haven't seen Simon of the Desert, but yes I can picture her playing a very convincing devil too.

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Re: The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

#135 Post by ando » Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:48 pm

Sloper wrote:
ando wrote:The main issue I have with your overall impression is your insistence that Buñuel has created a portrait of the Mexican Bourgoise as a trap. Where can you go with such a situation that is established so early on? I don't see the psychic boundary with which the dinner party finds themselves beset as "utterly fluid". That they are strictly defined is more or less obvious but how are they fluid?
Hypothetically, the film could have shown these characters trapped in the room but never openly acknowledging the trap. They could just go on finding little excuses to stay there, and adhere religiously to the laws of decorum that define them as a class - this does happen to some extent, in the drawing room and in the church. Edmundo says at one point, 'I trust in their discretion', and up to a point this trust is rewarded; they never actually get around to murdering him. Another hypothetical alternative: all the guests forget how to be civilised and end up raping, killing and cannibalising each other.

Instead of either of these scenarios, we get what I'm referring to as 'fluidity'. The reality of what's happening is acknowledged, right down to the stench of the makeshift toilet in the cupboard and the growing desire certain guests have to carry out a human sacrifice; but the rules of the bourgeois game are never entirely forgotten or abandoned. So for instance, even one of the 'strongest' and most chivalrous men at the party is reduced to hurling a woman across the room in a fit of impatience. A moment later he apologises very gallantly, and kisses her hand, but she doesn't really seem to accept this apology - these civilised people don't just turn into animals and forget all their training, but these outbursts of violence are not just momentary lapses either.
Oh, I see. You're referring to the rules of civility within that class. Now I understand your contrast with Discreet Charm. I'd always felt that Buñuel went beyond that artifical construct with Angel - in other words, through the lens of an absurd situation we might be able deconstruct the illusions created by human consciousness in all of its guises. Bourgeois or not, he certainly points out the "laughable circularity of history" in his illustration of the human character.
Sloper wrote: I like Nelligan in the BBC Measure for Measure, but I think that Pinal could convey the same level of righteous integrity. I don't actually think Isabella is self-righteous, though I know a lot of people see her (and Viridiana, I guess) in this light. She has integrity, and strong principles, but no illusions (unlike Angelo) about being better than everyone else - which, paradoxically, is what makes her seem better than everyone else... It seems to me that Pinal combines all these qualities beautifully in Viridiana and Angel. I still haven't seen Simon of the Desert, but yes I can picture her playing a very convincing devil too.
Well, I'd say Isabella's chief illusion is her belief in social justice. Look at her fate - after all of her petitioning, imploring, wrangling and soul-searching she ends up betrothed to the man who really initiated the entire ball of wax! As in most of Shakespesre resolutions The State is what must be preserved above all else. I don't see where - ultimately - the resolution of Exteminating Angel is much different. The same movement toward the inevitable disaster that clinging to illusions will bring is a particularly human condition. If Isabella is the real revolutionary (e.g., no illusions), when faced with the news of the impending execution of her brother her last resort would be an appeal to a stand-in duke.

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