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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Greek Debt Negotiations: Just a Eurozone Reenactment of Buñuel’s Surrealistic Masterpiece “The Exterminating Angel”?

Still-from-The-Exterminating Angel Guardian-006

Have the five grueling months of Greek debt negotiations been simply a reenactment of Luis Buñuel’s 1962 surrealistic film The Exterminating Angel, where the guests at the above dinner party, for some inexplicable reason, cannot leave the music room? (Film still credit: The Guardian)

British politician and onetime foreign secretary William Hague once called the Euro a “burning building with no exits.” And for five months, representatives of Greece and its creditors (we are now permitted to call them the troika again) have been locked in various rooms purportedly playing various games (chicken, turkey, rock-paper-scissors—which may have more accurately reflected what they had had to eat than what they were actually playing) while Greece slowly burned.

The Wikipedia begins to make a stab at summarizing the plot of the convoluted film as follows:

During a formal dinner party at the lavish mansion of Señor Edmundo Nobile and his wife, Lucia, the servants unaccountably leave their posts until only the major-domo is left. After dinner the guests adjourn to the music room, where one of the women, Blanca, plays a piano sonata. Later, when they might normally be expected to return home, the guests unaccountably remove their jackets, loosen their gowns, and settle down for the night on couches, chairs and the floor.

By morning it is apparent that, for some inexplicable reason, they are psychologically, but not physically, trapped in the music room. Unable to leave, the guests consume what little water and food is left from the previous night's party. Days pass, and their plight intensifies; they become quarrelsome, hostile, and hysterical …

While Greek PM Tsipras appeared to definitively leave the room by calling his snap referendum on 27 June, after overwhelmingly winning it on 5 July with a “No” vote to the creditors’ proposal (which was off the table anyway at this point) he has now returned to the room to abjectly capitulate to even harsher conditions after the ECB forced Greece to close its banks, impose capital controls, and plunge the country into economic chaos. (Evans-Pritchard claims that Tsipras was actually expecting and hoping to lose the referendum, thus allowing him to resign in dignity after having fought and lost the good fight. Alas, he had no such luck.) The creditors had threatened that a “No” vote would be a vote for exiting the Euro (Grexit), but now that this has happened, they have backpedaled (Juncker’s “small vs. large egos”) and are now in no apparent rush to throw Greece out.

No one seems able to leave the room. The Eurozone actors’ behaviors have become so inconsistent and absurd they make Buñuel’s figures seem paragons of reason and bourgeois propriety, something he had set out to parody.

The film’s ending (again drawing on the Wikipedia summary) opens up another range of fanciful Eurozone analogies, which I leave to the reader’s imagination to construct:

Eventually, Raúl suggests that Nobile is responsible for their predicament and that he must be sacrificed. Only Dr. Conde and the noble Colonel Alvaro oppose the angry mob claiming Nobile's blood. As Nobile offers to take his own life, a young foreign guest, Leticia (nicknamed "La Valkiria") sees that they are all in the same positions as when their plight began. Obeying her instructions, the group starts reconstructing their conversation and movements from the night of the party and discover that they are then free to leave the room. Outside the manor, the guests are greeted by the local police and the servants, who had left the house on the night of the party and who had similarly found themselves unable to enter it.

To give thanks for their salvation, the guests attend a Te Deum at the cathedral. When the service is over, the churchgoers along with the clergy are also trapped. It is not entirely clear though, whether those that were trapped in the house before are now trapped again. They seem to have disappeared. The situation in the church is followed by a riot on the streets and the military step in to brutally clamp down on the rioters. The last scene shows a pack of sheep entering the church in a row, accompanied by the sound of gunshots.

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