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LUIS BUÑUEL, Spain-born Mexican filmmaker, was the father of cinematic Surrealism, a genre that attracted me during my Cleveland art-theatre 20s. And just two days ago, Daughter Suz and I experienced Met HD’s The Exterminating Angel, Thomas Adès’ opera patterned after Buñuel’s 1962 film of the same name.
So how does Buñuel prepare me for Donald Trump? The New York Times, October 27, 2017, sums it up in its “Review: If You See One Opera This Year, Make It ‘The Exterminating Angel.’ ” Both the Buñuel film and Adès opera are accurately described by the NYT’s Anthony Tommasini as “a surreal, bleakly comic yet disturbing fantasy about a dinner party gone to hell.”
Examples of surrealism include Salvador Dali’s melting watch and Buñuel’s 1961 film Viridiana, in which a dinner party scene transforms into Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Surrealism disturbs us by introducing unnatural or irrational juxtapositions into what we think is reality.
Images such as this remain in my memory all these years. Others seared into my mind more recently: ridiculing a physically challenged reporter, insulting a war hero, citing female blood in various ways, stalking the opposition during a national TV debate, stiffing others on business deals, being bullying and vindictive, lying congenitally about trivial things such as hand or crowd size, and other congenital lying about things that do matter.
To me, our times are surreal. Yet, sadly enough, real.
At least Adès’ and Buñuel’s surrealism is metaphor, not life itself.
The Exterminating Angel has a simple enough plot: Well-heeled opera goers are invited to a posh after-performance dinner. Inexplicably, though, when it’s time to leave, no one is able to pass through an arch defining the space between the sitting room and exit.
For an indeterminate time, in a Sartre sense there is “no exit.” During a couple of days, maybe more, the characters expose more and more of their souls. Their surroundings become increasingly bizarre.
Three sheep appear in the sitting room. One is sacrificed to the party’s hunger. A woman sings a particularly poignant aria, almost a lullaby, as she cradles the sheep head in her arms.
No, folks, this ain’t Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. But neither is today’s reality the same as Count Almaviva’s Seville.
There’s also a YouTube offering of the entire Buñuel film: El Ángel Exterminado.
I recall the one I saw in Cleveland had subtitles; this one doesn’t, but it is visually stunning and no less surreal.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017