The Exterminating Angel
Luis Bunuel was born in Spain, but worked all over the world, in Mexico and France, with a couple of English-language films thrown in for good measure. He is best known for his surrealist short film, Un Chien Andalou (1928), codirected with Salvador Dali, and he kept up that level of playful anarchy throughout the rest of his career. The Exterminating Angel (1962) was made in Mexico with the aid of the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, and it tells one of the most peculiar stories in Bunuel's remarkable filmography. Simply, the guests at a fancy dinner party find themselves unable to leave. There's no explanation. Nothing is stopping them. They just... can't leave. Chaos reigns, with characters fighting, committing unspeakable acts, burning furniture, and breaking through the walls to get to a water pipe. It's a brilliant way for Bunuel to point out the human foibles of the upper class and the religious establishment, which was one of his favorite activities.
In the 1990s, Iran experienced a kind of "New Wave" of filmmakers, chief among them Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Kiarostami won the Palme d'Or for his great Taste of Cherry (1997), but his real masterpiece was Close-Up (1990), a movie not truly discovered in America until its belated DVD release. A self-reflexive commentary on the cinema and on life, Close-Up tells the true story of Hossain Sabzian, a film fan who impersonated Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and was able to move in with an unsuspecting family while pretending to look for a movie location. Kiarostami apparently filmed Sabzian's trial, went back with the real people and shot a re-enactment of the incident leading up to the trial, and then intercut all the footage into this remarkable film. He ends it with a memorable meeting between Sabzian and the real Makhmalbaf which, in itself, is a strange combination of life and cinema. Though many great films came from Iran, Close-Up is widely considered the best.
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