The Exterminating Angel

El Angel Exterminador, 1962, Spanish/Mexico

Edmundo Nóbile (Enrique Rambal) is the perfect host: when his guests remove their coats, he decides to “spare their embarrassment” by removing his own. He is “appalled by suffering [and has] always tried to help the needy.” What does he hate the most? “Coarseness, violence and filth,” now “[their] inseparable companions.” By the end of the film, as everyone bays for his blood, he offers to take his own life. His wife Lucía (Lucy Gallardo) is visibly hassled by her responsibilities, and seeks solace in an affair with Col. Alvaro.

Leticia (Silvia Pinal), the opera singer, has performed in and as “the virgin bride” Lucía di Lammermoor, which the guests have just returned from. Indeed, the unwanted label sticks to her (“they say she preserves it – a perversion, perhaps”). She is also disdainfully but appropriately referred to as “La Valkiria” (“the Valkyrie”): like the figures in Norse mythology, she “seems to float among the guests, tending to their needs, giving water and comfort to those who are ill and weak.”

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Edmondo (Enrique Rambal) and Leticia (Silvia Pinal)

Dr. Carlos Conde (Augusto Benedico) believes they “will only overcome [their] plight by cold analysis.” He urges everyone not to lose their heads, and tries to cure the guests as best as he can. He tends to use “bald” as a euphemism for “fatally ill”, especially around his cancer-ridden patient Leonora (Bertha Moss), who has a fatalistic crush on him. She shows the most religious fervor of any of the guests, vowing to go to Lourdes “if [they] ever get out of this trap.”

Col. Alvaro (César del Campo) is the first to notice the situation: “Not one of us has made the slightest effort to go home. Why? Was it natural for us to spend the night here, against the elementary rules of etiquette?” He is one of the few voices of reason in this ensemble: he helps Edmundo even as he cuckolds him.

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Blanca (Patricia de Morelos), Dr. Conde (Augusto Benedico), Col. Alvaro (César del Campo), Julio (Claudio Brook) and Lucía (Lucy Gallardo)

Raúl (Tito Junco) has a habit of provocatively tapping his cane on others’ chests, a clear indication of his character. The group tries to excuse him on the grounds that he lives in the United States. He has little sense of decorum, shaving his legs in public, treating furniture as firewood, and throwing Cristián’s ulcer pills on the rubbish heap. He also stirs up trouble by insisting the guests are Edmundo’s “victims”; only Leticia stands up to him.

Leandro Gomez (José Baviera) and Alberto Roc (Enrique Garcia Álvarez), the conductor, are Freemasons who reveal themselves to unsuccessfully call for help. Alberto is the first to feel the effects of the “curse”: he falls asleep on the sofa after Blanca plays the piano, but feels well enough a few nights later to force himself on a woman. His young wife Alicia (Jacqueline Andere) warns us early on that he is a bit oversexed.

Cristián Ugaldo (Luis Beristáin) spends his time suffering from a stomach ulcer or looking after his pregnant wife Rita (Patricia Morán). Rita, Silvia (Rosa Elena Durgel) and Ana Maynar (Nadia Haro Oliva), though unrelated, are the Weird Sisters of the movie. They spend most of their time gossiping, and decide to kill Edmundo to free themselves: “Dead spiders spin no webs.” Ana, who we first notice when she takes chicken feet out of her purse, is a Jew who tries to free the guests by practising Kabbalah.

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Dr. Conde (Augusto Benedico), Rita (Patricia Morán) and Cristián Ugaldo (Luis Beristáin),

Leandro Gomez (José Baviera), and Raúl (Tito Junco)

Eduardo (Xavier Massé) and Béatriz (Ofelia Montesco) are a young engaged couple for whom the entrapment is a game. They retreat into a cupboard, where they make love and eventually slit their wrists. [Cue Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight.”]

Juana Avila (Ophelia Guilmáin) has spoilt her younger brother Francisco (Xavier Loyá), who is needy and neurotic. Once he steals Edmundo’s morphine, he starts having mood swings.

Blanca (Patricia de Morelos) is the most disconsolate of the lot; the nightmare begins and ends with her playing the piano, and she spends most of the time pining for her children.

Sergio Russell (Antonio Bravo) has the least screen time of any of the guests: he brooks no nonsense from anyone, and is visibly ill by the end of the dinner. He loses consciousness at dawn, and dies the next night. Only Dr. Conde hears his last words: “I’m content. I won’t see the extermination.”

Julio (Claudio Brook), the butler, keeps some semblance of order. He is the first to notice that “strange things are happening”, that the tradesmen and the milkman haven’t arrived. He is soon trapped with the guests, and keeps himself busy breaking walls in search of water pipes and sealing up doorways. He is perhaps the most genuine human being in the mansion: he sees to it that everyone leaves before he does.