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The Exterminating Angel

El Angel Exterminador, 1962, Spanish/Mexico

Buñuel was fascinated by groups of isolated individuals and had always wanted to film a version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which also traces the death of civilization when social mores are no longer in place.

Angel also has more than a passing similarity to existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, with its famous last words “hell is other people”. Buñuel downplayed the comparison, noting that, unlike in the play, “there are absolutely no material circumstances that bar the people [in the film] from leaving."

The film also has a lot in common with the Theatre of the Absurd, which was then at its peak. Buñuel’s combination of nonsense and provocation recalls the work of French playwrights Eugène Ionesco and Jean Genet: the former’s The Bald Soprano even has a character comment “she always styles her hair the same way,” a complaint echoed by Francisco in Angel.

At least one commentator sees Angel as a before-the-fact parody of the disaster flick: the original title, The Castaways of Providence Street, makes the shipwreck analogy clear. Buñuel certainly knew of the “godlike” power the filmmaker had over his characters; it’s possible he had no sympathy for any of the guests: he is “a spiritual cousin of Goethe’s Mephistopheles, who thinks that everything that comes to be deserves its own destruction, and depicts ruin with devilish enjoyment.”

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