With Aaron, things never seem to go quite as planned. This week his copy of the movie failed to arrive on time and we had to shun a potentially not-quite-kosher stream in the interest of the long-term viability of Cinema 1544. Fortunately, after the short Aaron was able to find us a legal copy of a different, but still quite interesting, film. I’m just glad I got around to seeing Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris a few days before…
The short was a 2010 piece called “Love Language” and was directed by Jason Y. Lee. Watch if you like, for there be spoilers below!
In brief, a young man and young woman sit on the same bench. She excuses her refusal to talk to him or listen to him by way of her iPod. “Can’t turn off my music,” she implies, but undissuaded he writes her a note on a post-it. They continue to meet day after day, passing more and more notes until the (totally telegraphed) big reveal – she’s not really listening to her iPod, she’s deaf. Not a big deal, though, and they’re on their way to being a couple.
Most of the time, Love Language really felt like a script in search of a punch line. Of course, that’s not what it was – it was more of a “be nice to deaf people” public service announcement. Which is cool and all, but it’s only a small step from there to Lifetime Original Movies. I’m telling you, if somebody tries to show Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? I’m totally leaving.
Our feature film, however, was Luis Buñuel‘s classic 1962 film The Exterminating Angel. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I believe that as Buñuel’s third film (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Viridiana) this sets the high mark for separate installments for a single director in Cinema 1544. Several directors have three films by virtue of the Winter Marathons (and Woody Allen, adding Annie Hall, has four films total), and Tarantino could be stretched to three if you count his re-cut of True Romance and his segment in Four Rooms, but I don’t think anybody else has a legitimate claim to feature films on three separate occasions.
I’ll give the whole “movie review” thing a try for The Exterminating Angel, but I’m not sure I can do a better job than Woody Allen’s time-traveling Gil in Midnight in Paris:
Gil: Oh, Mr. Buñuel! I had a nice idea for a movie for you.
Young Buñuel: Yes?
Gil: Yeah, a group of people attend a very formal dinner party and at the end of dinner when they try to leave the room, they can’t.
Young Buñuel: Why not?
Gil: They just can’t seem to exit the door.
Young Buñuel: But, but why?
Gil: Well – momento – when they’re forced to stay together the veneer of civilization quickly fades away and what you’re left with is who they really are – animals.
Young Buñuel: But I don’t get it. Why don’t they just walk out of the room?
Gil: All I’m saying is just think about it. Who knows, maybe when you’re shaving one day it’ll tickle your fancy.
Young Buñuel: I don’t understand! What’s holding them in the room?
What Buñuel seems to be doing in this film is to weave together the themes of free will and the inhumanity of man together with what would appear to be a subtle potshot at the church. Oh, and a potshot at the upper classes, which is a staple of Buñuel’s oeuvre.
(By the way, I lived at an 1109 once, but it was not quite so nice.)
Our film opens with a spate of servants mysteriously abandoning their household just as their employers are preparing to host a formal dinner party. It has the feel of a deliberate abandonment, with everybody giving lame excuses, but in the end, the lower classes abandoning their castemasters seemed to have little to do with rebellion, little to do with foreknowledge of the coming doom, but was simply a manifestation of the ever-present spectre of inevitability.
Oddly enough, there are some lambs (and a baby bear) that walk through the kitchen during dinner preparations. Nobody seems to find this unusual. Hey, a surrealist has got to get his kicks in somewhere, right?
The dinner goes about as well as you can expect for a household with only one remaining servant (how did they do it?) but it’s at the after-party that things start to go wrong. It’s so great that nobody seems to want to leave. They get to the threshold of the room, they decide that they’ve really got something better to do than exit, and so they stick around. Eventually the bolder among them start to take their jackets off and simply sleep in the salon, to the great consternation of their hosts. It’s not until the next morning that folks start to come to the realization that they just simply can’t leave. For no apparent reason. It’s just that no amount of willpower can get them to exit the room, despite the fact that an elderly guest is gravely ill, and eventually dies. “I’m glad I won’t be around to see the extermination” he says, and frustratingly it never pays off, though an engaged couple does eventually commit double suicide in one of the convenient restrooms off of the salon. (It was thoughtful of Buñuel to save his characters from rolling in their own filth.)
Of course, decorum begins to fall apart as the food runs out and the prisoners are forced to break into the wall to expose a water pipe.
Some of the odd visions seen by the hungry guests are hallucinations, but the lambs which eventually wander into the room undeterred by the psychic barrier are not.
Incidentally, by this time the whole city seems to be outside the mansion trying to find a way in to rescue the people they know have not left (if, indeed, they are alive), but they encounter the same barrier to entry that the others find to leaving. But after a while, even Buñuel gets tired of Real World Mexico City and devises a way to extricate his characters.
One of the women realizes that, for the first time since their odyssey began, they are each located in exactly the same spot they were in before they started to make the fateful decisions (if indeed a decision is involved) not to leave. They begin to reenact the scenario, but explicitly decide to leave, and whoosh! the spell is broken.
Of course, the movie can’t end there, because the escapees have earlier promised to give a mass if they ever made it out.
And, of course, after the service nobody can seem to leave the church.
Yeah, OK, now it’s over.
The big problem with this film is that it doesn’t really develop its themes very fully (what is it saying about free will? what is it saying about society? what is it saying about religion?) and it’s just impossible to tell what is symbolic and what is totally random. Remember, kids! Don’t mix your surrealism and your morality plays. It gets confusing.