The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962). A rich couple throw a post-opera dinner party at their enormous mansion. A shot of them entering and going up a large staircase is repeated; you think you accidentally hit the reverse button. A small bear a some goats are wandering around inside the mansion. Almost every one of the servants finds a reason to leave, which pisses off the rich hostess. After eating, the party guests gather in a large room to continue the party’s pleasures. For some reason, they find they can’t leave the room. There are no visible reasons why they are stuck in the room. There’s a small bathroom where they can use a toilet, and that’s about it. The longer they stay in the room, the more their true tendencies come out, and trust me, they aren’t good tendencies. In the seemingly happy ending, they escape into a church. Except now they can’t get out of the church. Yes, it’s just another Buñuel movie, one of his best. He had full creative control for the only time in his Mexican period. The surreal touches are slight, just enough to throw you off. The attacks on the upper class aren’t as blatant as they could be. You could, in fact, watch The Exterminating Angel and think it merely an odd, perplexing dramedy. Therein lies the film’s greatness … Buñuel sneaks up on you this time. Only gradually do we realize that the breakdown of social niceties that occurs when the rich are trapped in the room is, for them, akin to the breakdown of civilization itself. If we are to believe the IMDB, the film was banned in Russia “because the idea of people not being allowed to ‘leave a party’ was considered offensive and anti-government.” (It almost doesn’t matter if this anecdote is true or false … it feels like it belong in a Buñuel, to be sure.) #151 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. I’d double bill this with his later film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where instead of being stuck in a room, we have characters who go where they want but can’t seem to get anything to eat.
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983).
Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992).