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June 03, 2008

DVD Journal: "Exterminating Angels"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Naughty games at a restaurant -- how French

Pretentious, intense, and very, very sexy, this high-toned piece of loony self-absorption by Jean-Claude Brisseau tickled me no end, and for a variety of reasons.

Conceptually it's a kooky but daring idea. Brisseau -- whose "Choses Secretes" I also loved -- was taken to court by some actresses who accused him of abusing them during auditions. He was semi let off, but he then chose to make this film, which is partly about that experience. It's a kind of apologia for his conduct as an artist and a director.

In other words, it's a sexy arty film about auditioning actresses for a sexy arty movie. In that way it's rather like Catherine Breillat's "Sex is Comedy," which was based on the difficulties Breillat had shooting a sex scene for an earlier movie. Yeah, baby.

In its realization, "Exterminating Angels" is a jaw-dropping combo of refined, spare French elegance; dreamy surrealism a la Bunuel and Cocteau; extended suspense a la Hitchcock; and voluptuous and intense sex fantasies.

The director figure in the film puts his actresses through sexual trials and messes with their emotions, yet he never actually has sex with them -- something a few of them find hard to forgive. A couple of chic yet malevolent angels (really!) preside over the director figure's fate.

Meanwhile, of course, you're watching the film thinking (among other things, such as "Wowee!"), "Holy shit. He had to audition actresses for the film we're actually watching, which is largely about auditioning actresses for the previous film. I wonder what that was like. And how crazy are the actresses we're watching, who are portraying crazy actresses?" It's one of the sexiest games of mental ping-pong I've ever had the privilege of taking part in.

Brisseau is an unquestionable talent, yet he's a strange one -- as much an obsessed autodidact as Ed Wood; an elegant and innovative stylist; a man with sex, actresses, beauty, transcendence, religion, and cinema on his mind ... Film Comment's Gavin Smith has written that he thinks Brisseau may actually be deranged. That's certainly a possibility too. Even if you don't enjoy Brisseau's movies, you've almost certainly never seen anything quite like them.

FWIW, as pretentious arty-sexy movies go, I found "Exterminating Angels" far more enjoyable than "Eyes Wide Shut." Breillat's "Sex is Comedy" is also very worth a watch. I should add that The Wife, who loved "Secret Things," was mostly bored by "Exterminating Angels," and that she's a defender of "Eyes Wide Shut," which she considers misunderstood as well as a lot of fun.

* Here's an interview with Brisseau.

* Here's a good Frédéric Bonnaud introduction to Brisseau's work.

* For those who can manage some French, here's an interview with the film's three main actresses.

* I wrote about Catherine Breillat's films here and here. I love many of them, but they certainly ain't for everybody.

Fast-Forwarding Score: Are you kidding? I look forward to rewatching much of this film many times over, and leaving tongue-tracks on the TV screen as I do so.



posted by Michael at June 3, 2008



Sold! There's a French film festival every year in this amazing indie theater called the Cable Car down in Providence RI. I was checking out its website and the banner image for the fest was a still from "Angels".

Holy crap! I must have dropped my ham sandwich on the floor.

Thanks for reminding me to get the DVD.

BTW, the wife and I watched the new french version of "Lady Chatterly" with much excitement and were... bored to death. So sad. I thought some of the intrique of the novel was the deeper experience of the man. But in this film version both of them seem clueless for much of it, the first three sessions being pretty much them boning away. Not very interesting.

The Holzbachian

Posted by: Holzbachian on June 3, 2008 10:34 PM

Dang, thanks for the report. It always seemed weird, a French version of "Lady Chatterly" ... I don't know what the French could make of Lawrence's themes, agonies, and ecstasies. Let me know how you respond if you watch "Secret Things" or "Exterminating Angels."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 4, 2008 3:56 AM

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