Exterminating Angel

Starring: Jacqueline Andere and Silvia Pinal
Arrow Films
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: 12
Available 28 August 2006

A wealthy couple's dinner party takes an unexpected turn when the guests find that they can no longer leave the room in which they are standing. As the food and water run out the guests' behaviour becomes increasingly extreme as they attempt to dig through the walls to get water and summon the devil. It is a dinner which not all the guests will survive...

There can't be many people who can say that Luis Brunel gave them nightmares as a teenager. Having taken, my then, partner to see David Bowie play at Wembley, the concert started with a showing of Brunel's nineteen twenty-nine surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, which he made in conjunction with Salvadore Dali. Although the film is very short, around sixteen minutes, it was the graphic slicing of an eyeball, a visual so unexpected and shocking in a film of its age, which made an indelible mark on me. I had to find out who the creators were and if anyone else was making films like this, such began my love for the strange and bizarre. Though few would be brave enough to explore the world as Brunel had until the advent of David Lynch.

Brunel created a whole body of work, which both examined and ridiculed what he saw as the artifice of civilisation and religion; there were few subjects even at the fringes of human behaviour, which didn't come under his keen gaze. As the Marquise De Sade had influenced the existentialists, he also found an adherent in Brunel, most notably in his film Belle de Jour (1967).

Exterminating Angel (1962) played with another of Brunel's favourite themes, that civilisation and manners are just the lies that we tell each other to hide our animalistic inner self. As such, it is very similar in thrust and structure to Jean-Paul Sartre's play Huis Clos (No Exit), both men obviously held the contention that Hell really is other people.

The film starts on an odd note, having arranged a dinner party, the servants leave before it begins, much to the chagrin of the hostess. However she makes the best of a bad situation and things seem to be going well, that is until the guests retire to the drawing room where, as my other half would say: "It's all goes David Lynch on them".

Initially hints of the bizarre are little more than teasers until the party comes to an close and the guests find that they cannot leave, it is not as if some barrier has thwarted their exit, they cannot leave just because they cannot leave. Reason and logic have been left at the door, as trapped in the room, they try and do the best they can but the pressure of close contact soon starts to break down the rules, which govern their social cohesion. In the days that follow, with no food or water, death and madness take many of the guests.

This is Brunel at his cruellest. His obvious dislike for the bourgeoisies of Spanish society punches through just like the titles exterminating angel, using his wrath to expose, what he sees, as every one of their hypocrisies. They are monkeys scrabbling in the sh*t of their own making. It's not always an easy film to watch, and for a modern audience Brunel's lack of explanation can be somewhat perplexing, but without a doubt it is one of Brunel's acerbic masterpieces.

The disc is not without its faults, presented in 4.3 mono, the print has obviously seen better days. That said once you get past the initial title screen the picture settles down quite nicely and the majority of the print is in quite good condition.

Charles Packer

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