A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)

Leticia: Silvia Pinal
Edmundo Nobile: Enrique Rambal
Steward: Claudio Brook
Leandro Gomez: José Baviera
Doctor: Augusto Benedico
Sergio Russell: Antonio Bravo
Alicia de Roc: Jacqueline Andere
Colonel: César de Campo
Silvia: Rosa Elena Durgel
Lucia de Nobile: Lucy Gallardo
Alberto Roc: Enrique García Álvarez
Juana Avila: Ofelia Guilmáin
Ana Maynar: Nadia Haro Oliva
Raúl: Tito Junco
Francisco Avila: Xavier Loyà
Eduardo: Xavier Massé
Beatriz: Ofelia Montesco
Cristián Ugalde: Luis Beristáin
Rita Ugalde: Patricia Morán
Blanca: Patricia de Morelos
Leonora: Bertha Moss

Director: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Luis Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Production design: Jesús Bracho
Film editing: Carlos Savage
Music: Raúl Lavista

The Exterminating Angel teeters occasionally on the brink of heavy-handed satire -- the sheep entering the now-blocked church at the film's end, for example -- but somehow Luis Buñuel always recovers his balance. I think it's because he knows that surrealism -- the movement which gave him birth -- must always be underpinned by a dutiful semi-documentary realism, that we must never be entirely sure whether the improbable characters we're encountering and the unlikely events we're witnessing are external to us or are products of our own unstable minds. Take the déja vu effect near the beginning of the film, when we witness the guests arriving at the mansion of the Nobiles and ascending the staircase only to watch the same scene repeated almost immediately from a somewhat different angle. For a moment we wonder if the projectionist has put on the wrong reel or the film editor has forgotten to excise the repeated scene. Or perhaps we wonder if we dozed off for a second and missed something that would explain the repetition. But no, the director must be playing with us, we conclude. That, or we're trapped in his own world, just as he is to trap the guests inside a room later, never bothering to provide an explanation of the force that keeps them there. It's one of those tricks that can only work in the movies, where we, like the house guests, have gathered and found themselves unable to escape. We can choose to escape from the experience The Exterminating Angel presents to us -- nothing prevents us from leaving the theater or turning off the video -- but we don't. So there's much to be said for the observation that the house guests are us, that Buñuel's point is not just that the Spanish bourgeoisie of the Franco years were seething in their own corruption and inertia, but also that we are all trapped by something in our psyches and/or societies that limits and lames us.

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