Luis Buñuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL packs a punch on Criterion's Blu-ray release.
Luis Buñuel's El Angel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) is one of the greatest works of cinematic surrealism of the '60s. Even as Buñuel's profile rose later in the decade with films like Belle de jour, and then on into the '70s with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Exterminating Angel packs a satisfying punch against a polite society of the Mexican monied upper class.
As an elaborate feast winds to a close, the guests can't seem to make their way out of the room to leave. What first appears to be a comedy of manners, with each guest deferring to the next in terms of who should lead the exodus, quickly deteriorates into a surrealist quagmire in which these men and women of high breeding rapidly devolve to their base instincts.
By 1962, Buñuel had made several surrealist classics, but as he was chased out of Europe - like so many others - by the increasing threat and reality of fascism, he managed to make a home for himself in Mexico for several years. In those post WWII years, Mexico's film industry was more interested in potboilers than artistic flights of fancy, but somehow Buñuel managed to eke out a few for himself among a decent number of well-received mainstream films.
The Exterminating Angel was the last of his Mexican feature films (though he did make Simon of the Desert a couple of years later), and he definitely made it count. This film's cutting criticisms of the rites and rituals of the upper classes is on par with any such comedy of manners made anywhere, even his own The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and it is one of a startling small number of Mexican films in existence that the world can look upon with reverence.
The Criterion Collection presents The Exterminating Angel in a restored HD transfer that looks superb. Having recently rewatched Criterion's prior DVD release, I'm fairly certain that this release uses the same HD master probably created for that disc only a few years ago, but it looks markedly better considering the DVD was pictureboxed (cropped on all four sides leaving a black border all the way around the image). That being said, the sound has received a notable upgrade to my ears, with the general hiss and noise of the previous release being all but eliminated.
Like the image, the extras are an exact replication of those included with the prior DVD. No doubt Buñuel would get a kick out of that intentional replication. That being said, the hour long feature detailing his life and career across the Atlantic and back again with his son, Juan Luis Buñuel and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, is not only informative, but the familial bond makes for a few heartwarming moments you might not have seen in a less familiar presenter. There are also several interviews, one with actress Silvia Pinal, and another with filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, that are also repeated from the previous release. Hell, even the exceptional 38 page booklet from the old release is here. In other words, if you're upgrading, you aren't missing anything from the 2009 DVD.
The Exterminating Angel is definitely a disc worth checking out, though I might rent first if you're not familiar with Buñuel, for your own sake.