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The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel
Friday July 1st, 2011


In Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris Owen Wilson carries on an imaginary conversation with legendary filmmaker Luis Bunuel about a film the young Bunuel hasn't made yet. Why, Wilson asks, in this as yet unmade film, don't the party guests simply walk out of the room and go home? Bunuel is perplexed and responds by asking Wilson the same question.

When I saw Allen's film and heard that reference to a movie it struck my curiosity so I came home and Googled Luis Bunuel to get the title of the film. Then as luck would have it I noticed that the Harvard Film Archive was showing the movie last Friday night. I'd never been there before and it was a little intimidating because the place accommodates Harvard film students and faculty.

The Harvard Film Archive is a nice place to see a movie; Located near Harvard Sq. about 5 minutes away on foot. The Archive seats 200 people and the screen was a pretty good size. A speaker comes out before the film begins and addresses the audience with some historical info about the movie to put it into context. Pretty classy place. That's Harvard for you.

As for the film itself, The Exterminating Angel is Luis Bunuel's 1962 surreal masterpiece available on DVD. Made after Bunuel fled Spain for Mexico following the negative reaction from Franco and the church to his previous film, Angel is a scathing, wickedly funny satire on the wealthy Spanish Catholics who supported General Franco's regime. In it a group of people attend a party at a mansion and find themselves trapped in the dining room as if by some invisible wall. People outside the mansion are likewise paralyzed to enter. Gradually the strain of imprisonment cracks the veneer of upper class propriety and the guests expose their true natures.

It has often been noted that the toughest prisons to escape from are the ones we erect for ourselves.