Synopsis: Francois is a filmmaker who aims to study and document the sensuality of women. What he expected to be an objective exploration quickly becomes a difficult confrontation with emotion, temptation, jealousy, and lust As his female subjects reveal intense emotional and sensual satisfaction, their effect on Francois and each other is immeasurable, and Francois’ attempt to understand women threatens to unravel him. From the controversial director of Secret Things, comes The Exterminating Angels, a film that will shock you, provoke you, and turn you on.
I originally picked up this DVD without any sense of what it was or that it placed second in a trilogy about female sexuality. It’s a good thing, too, because, had I known that it would commit me to viewing two other films, titles that would likely be a challenge to find, I surely would have passed on it.
But the title was intriguing – as was the box art, of course. And when I saw the quote stating that it is “seriously dirty”, I couldn’t help but be enticed by it. Plus which I was getting it from my favourite indie movie rental shop, thereby infusing it with potential. And the price was right – a mere 7$ (plus applicable taxes).
I only later found out about the trilogy when I stumbled upon ‘À l’aventure‘, the third part, earlier this year, while browsing in Montréal – it referred to ‘Les anges exterminateurs’ in the synopsis. Stunned to find this out, and suddenly even more intrigued by the picture, I went and sought out the first part, ‘Choses secrètes‘ – for some reason, a title even more difficult to find than the other two.
By reading up on the series a little bit, I discovered that ‘Les anges exterminateurs’ (translation: ‘The Exterminating Angels’) is loosely based on writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau’s experiences in making ‘Choses secrètes’: whereas the film is about a director who is manipulated by a trio of sexy young actresses, Brisseau was sued by three women for harassment after they did a sexy screen test together for his film.
Having seen ‘À ma soeur’ and its counterpart ‘Sex is Comedy’, by Catherine Breillat, the latter based in the making of the former, I was immediately curious to find out how ‘Les anges exterminateurs’ interpreted its facts. The Breillat films were especially memorable in and of themselves, but what was fascinating was how the line between reality and fiction was blurred further by using the same actress in both.
“In what way would ‘Les anges exterminateurs’ distinguish itself from its peers and from reality?”, I wondered.
Well, even after watching the interviews with Brisseau, I’m not 100% sure what was lifted directly from his own life and what was fantasy; it’s a subject that he didn’t discuss in any significant detail. But, having seen ‘Choses secrètes’ the night prior, I can easily imagine how he could have transposed any of the individual moments from his real-world encounters with actresses.
One particularly amusing moment was when François, the director in ‘Les anges exterminateurs’, held interviews to find the right leads for his picture – a film he himself could only discuss in abstractions, as an experiment of sorts. Seeing the various reactions of the many women was both amusing and curious: some were obviously unprepared to meet his expectations, while others had peculiar aims of their own.
François eventually selects two actresses with exactly the attitude he sought and proceeds with separate initial trials – before having them meet for a little public naughtiness. Then he finds a third young woman who is also eager to star in his experimental film and is unconcerned about the sexual demands of the role. What was already a steamy duo was soon augmented to a senses-shattering trio.
All the sexual activity in this film is girl-on-girl. There is no male nudity or sexuality, just women, even though it could have been easy to make François the fortunate recipient of the women’s attention. Personally, I thought that this made sense, in that the director is strictly a catalyst for the women’s sexual adventures. Further to this, Brisseau likely didn’t want to incriminate himself in the ‘Choses secrètes’ affair, and wanted to suggest that he had been innocent all along.
As with ‘Choses secrètes’, I found the masturbation scenes very appealing, if not utterly entrancing. I was amazed to discover how much the lighting hid the finer details of the performers’ bodies, even though they are very much exposed for all to see. I suppose that is how a film remains in the realm of erotica instead of turning into porn, no matter how graphic it is: there is artistic quality to it, and an intellectual curiosity – it’s not merely pulse-quickening and sweat-inducing titillation.
Another parallel with ‘Choses secrètes’ is how Brisseau picked women who are not conventionally beautiful, but finds ways to make them sexy, alluring. I really like that. I’m so sick of seeing perfect women, with artificially-enhanced bodies and features gracing the pages and screens of North American erotica. Seeing women that you could easily cross in the street, on the bus, in everyday life, is much more appealing, I find. Showing that sexiness belongs not just to models is a rare breath of fresh air.
On top of being sexy, and unusually bold, I found the whole cast very good. There weren’t any performances that stood out or that should be noted in any particular way, but I was quite pleased with the overall quality of the actors – if there’s an Achilles’ Heel in erotic cinema, it frequently happens to be the thespian qualities of its cast. Or lack thereof. Of course, there are also frequent script issues… but, here, I found both completely solid.
‘Les anges exterminateurs’ begins with a few apparitions: the two “angels” (who are simply young women) and François’ deceased grandmother. These apparitions were reminiscent of the shrouded figure with the eagle in ‘Choses secrètes’. It was abstract and inexplicable in the first film and it was pretty much inscrutable here as well: until the end, the two angels seem to have different roles – one influences the male and the other influences the females. I’m not sure if it was intentional and what it means, though. As for the grandmother…? I have no idea.
A quote in the film’s trailer suggests that the Brisseau has a deranged mind. Honestly, I don’t see it. At least, not in the films I”ve seen thus far. Perhaps it’s just a marketing manoeuvre, or maybe there’s something to it when taken in the context of his whole oeuvre. However, as far as ‘Les anges exterminateurs’ is concerned, there’s nothing even remotely as extreme as even ‘9 1/2 Weeks’ offered (an over-rated film, if ever there was one, b-t-w! ). It’s just that Brisseau’s film is much more graphic, that’s all.