Judge Bill Gibron is not sure what's worse—a pretentious, talky foreign film that thinks its being intuitive about the female species and their sex drive, or a...wait, there is nothing worse.
France's answer to sex, lies and videotape—two decades too late.
Francois is a director with a problem. He wants his next movie to be about the secret sexual desires of women and the taboo-busting extremes they will go to in the pursuit of pleasure. He decides that the best way to cast this experimental epic is to hold slightly seedy auditions. The willing actresses—and there aren't many of them—will allow the filmmaker to record them masturbating and confessing carnal desires. Once he has a couple of compliant performers, he'll move on the lengthy lesbian workouts. First up is Julie, a mysterious maiden who needs a little round ball to help her achieve orgasm. Then there's Charlotte, a brazen babe who auditions by touching herself in a restaurant. Last but not least is Stephanie, a waitress who wants to push the passions of her personal life as far as they can go. Vowing he will never touch them, Francois films their exploits, and becomes their faux father confessor. Warned by his wife that things will turn troubling, our director forces the girls further and further into their fantasies. Unfortunately, this leads to issues of love, desire, defensiveness, and abandonment. When the film finishes, our trio is not happy, and they plan on taking down their partner in personal exploitation. Along with the Exterminating Angels that constantly fly around him, Francois is about to be undone by the very concepts he wanted to explain.
Mix one part David Lynch, a few unhealthy jiggers of Zalmon King, a quart of the typical French film flesh peddling, and a decidedly asexual approach to softcore, and you'd get just a small portion of the preposterous self-righteous smut stupidity that is Exterminating Angels. Taking its title literally (our lead is "haunted" by what appears to be a group of extras from a Robert Palmer video) and hoping to glorify girl-on-girl grinding, our supposed director—the notorious Jean-Claude Brisseau—ends up with nookie that's more nauseating than nascent. It's not just that we could care less about fictional filmmaker Francois, his fascination with troubled actresses Charlotte, Julie, and Stephanie, or the preposterous moments when the foursome flits off to a hotel room to "rehearse" their "screen tests." No, Brisseau (basing some of the story on his own real-life situations with starlets) hopes to probe the problematic mind of the female species. What he winds up offering is nothing more than endless sequences of existential conversation followed by moments of babe/babe finger-banging. Granted, it's unusual to keep the musky older man out of the nubile vixen variables, but it's clear that Exterminating Angels isn't interested in May to December dodges. Instead, there's a sickening sincerity to its aims, matched by an insurmountable pile of pretension that blocks any ability to sympathize or empathize. As a result, we experience is vapid voyeurism, pure and simple, the passions of a pervy pretend artist who only wants to show us gratuitous naked skirt-getting.
It's safe to say that you've surfed more tantalizing material than what this ersatz artist is delivering onscreen. Even in the adult industry, masturbation is reserved for pre-penetration cabaret and full-blown fetish features. Exterminating Angels treats it like a real-world revelation (Hey, World! Women rub themselves!!!). In fact, much of the material Brisseau offers as insight is actually part of almost every Lifetime movie's raison d'etre. He tells us that—shock, horror—women frequently fake orgasms and fail to be fulfilled sexually by their partners. Many have never considered their own physical needs (no kidding?) and allow men to use, confuse, and abuse them (calling Jerry Springer!). It's a chore sitting through the derivative dialogue where our compassionate lead listens to his potential stars' issues. The only revelatory moment occurs when already ditzy Charlotte admits that she's frequently possessed by the Devil…for no good reason…causing her to have superhuman strength. Right. In between all the restaurant rendezvous, bistro heart-to-hearts, and intimate introspection, we wonder if there's a big picture point. Brisseau obviously believes there is, and yet he avoids spelling it out, even as the last-act narrative starts falling over into glorified Greek tragedy. Along with the ever-present spectral figures and the oddball radio broadcasts that are never explained, this is a movie determined to live or die by its dream logic. The title tells it all—the entertainment ends up DOA.
Certainly there will be champions for this phony baloney male fantasy fodder. Get a guy going in the groin and he'll follow your film anywhere. But aside from the suspicious lack of heat generated by Exterminating Angels, there is a real dearth of drama here as well. We don't really understand Francois's moviemaking motivation. As one possible performer who turns out to be a porn star tells him, capturing erotica on film is a fallacy. No matter the situation, the talent will try to please whoever's on set—the rest of the cast, the crew, even the man behind the camera. His desire for reality is instantly destroyed by the medium he chooses to capture it in. Then there are the psychotic natures of the women. They're batty as all bullspit, turning twisted and attracted—fatally—to our dumbstruck director. He's impassive to the point of easy distraction, and the introduction of a criminal element in the last 30 minutes feels like the desperate act of a clueless storyteller. Of course, this assumes Exterminating Angels has a normal narrative to begin with. Instead, it's like Godard without the genius, or a non-erotic version of Eraserhead—except in this case, everyone's the malformed baby. While he may be a master of subtle sexual suggestion, Jean-Claude Brisseau is a carnal con man. This movie is about as far from incisive as a foreign skin flick can be. If you want Sappho without the arcane attached strings, stick to porn. This faux flesh peddling is pathetic.
Offered by IFC Films and the Weinstein Group in a generally basic DVD, the image quality of Exterminating Angels is very interesting. The movie is presented in a 1.33:1 full-screen transfer, which the packaging proclaims "preserves" the theatrical aspect ratio. If that's the case, the picture is pretty polished. The colors are correct and the details discernible. There's very little artistry in Brisseau's one-on-one moments, but get him away from the actors and his camera picks up interesting compositions and casual, compelling tableaus. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is a less than immersive experience. It's only when the rare musical underscoring arrives, or the weird-ass wireless broadcasts abound that we hear much from the back channels. As for added content, there's a 45-minute interview with Brisseau (and assistant/crewmember Maria Luisa Garcia); it delves into much of Exterminating Angels' reason for being. While quite upfront, the filmmaker avoids the most telling queries. There is also a single deleted scene that gets a full-blown introduction by the director. Defending its exclusive, a single viewing sells us on the edit as well. Toss in a trailer and there you have it. Not much in the way of clarifying context, but at least the disc lets Brisseau defend himself.
Taking its name from a classic bit of Luis Buñuel surrealism, Exterminating Angels is about as fanciful as a fart. Unless you need to see pretty things percolating their privates, spend your tainted tastes somewhere else. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Interview with Director Jean-Claude Brisseau
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