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February 19, 2007

Exterminating Angels, 2006

exterminatingangels.gifIt's tough to find something redeeming about Jean-Claude Brisseau's Exterminating Angels, a conflated, borderline pornographic, and execrable projection of the female psyche as seen through the murky gaze of a successful, middle-aged filmmaker, François (Frédéric van den Driessche) whose encounter with an actress recounting her sexual fantasy during an interview triggers his own personal and creative journey into capturing the intersection of desire and intimacy. Auditioning a series of actresses to act out their unsimulated moments of pleasure during increasing transgressive public situations and resurrecting them before the camera, François' impenetrability over his unwillingness to cross the line between his role as artist/observer and his implication in the process of his actresses' arousal as emotional manipulator/voyeur inevitably transforms the nature of the dynamic between the filmmaker and his actresses with profound and irreparable consequences for the both the participants and the film itself. Perhaps the key to the film's opacity resides in Brisseau's allusive reference to Luis Buñuel's comedy of manners, The Exterminating Angel - the awkward encounters, polite conversations, and hollow gestures of feigned geniality that demarcate the intranscendable distance between control and vulnerability, manipulation and complicity, attraction and obsession, reality and performance. It is in this surreal illustration of moribund ritual that Brisseau's incorporation of quasi-mythology in the appearance of Delphic guardians- one of whom may have been a former protégé who decided to leaving the profession (Raphaële Godin) - that the film's overindulgent (un)eroticism seems perversely suited in illustrating the filmmaker's ambivalence towards the role of women as nurturers, confidantes, and objects of desire - the transformation of fallen angels into unreconciled muses hovering the earth in search of true, and profoundly cataclysmic, inspiration.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects


The film seems to be an autobiographical defense of Brisseau's casting methods. He was recently in court for lewd acts while auditioning his female roles. I don't remember if he was convicted, but it seemed like a pretty difficult case to prove on his side.

Posted by: Jonathan Takagi on Feb 20, 2007 11:03 PM | Permalink

Ah, so that's the controversy. I thought that one/some of the actresses may have been underaged or something ...although they did seem to be pretty adult to me. ;) If the film is somewhat autobiographical, he does seem to go "away" for a little bit, whether it was some kind of detention or short term prison sentence was a bit unclear. And according to the film, apparently the police investigation was linked to one of the actresses having a family member who was in law enforcement and found their auditions/workshops more than a little questionable.

Posted by: acquarello on Feb 21, 2007 9:04 AM | Permalink

In 2005, he was given a 1 year suspended sentence, and fined, concerning the casting on his previous film Choses Secrètes (2002). He pretends he wrote the film before this case though. I see it as an obvious paranoid self-justification, to pass as art what was the enactment of his perversion! What a lame case he makes with this film. Not only the film is dreadful in itself, but the insight on female sexuality is thin...
And for his role he casts a handsome actor which creates a very different dominant-dominated relationship.
Here the appeal is confused with beauty seduction (impressionable girls who want to seduce an experienced man) rather than solely for the sexual perversity of the act (like in Belle de Jour).
By the way did you notice Brisseau plays himself in the wheelchair after the handsome actor is beaten up? (Well I think it was him)
It's also ironic how the protagonist keeps on repeating how he wants to stay neutral (initiative must come from the actress), while he's the one who gives orders at the restaurant and in the hotel room (shifting professional screen test into public exhibition).
Even in a fictitious story (which is probably far from what happened) he can't make his experiments look anything close to actual artistic/transgressive researches.

Posted by: HarryTuttle on Feb 21, 2007 1:17 PM | Permalink

Although I wasn't exactly enamored by this film, I think some of you are giving it the short shrift ("an obvious paranoid self-justification to pass as art what was the enactment of his perversion"). I saw it more as an introspection into the appeal of what Brisseau was accused of, as well as almost an admittance to his bafflement over the lawsuit and his own obscure desires. I found the movie most strange, and tried to go into its oddity in my piece on the film.

I do agree completely Harry that his supposedly transgressive taboo breaking didn't appear anything of the sort.

Posted by: phyrephox on Feb 21, 2007 2:28 PM | Permalink

Heheh! I didn't realize that the guy in the wheelchair was Brisseau (I don't know what he looks like.) Does this then suggest that he actually thinks of himself as a kind of suffering, Jean Sorel-type innocent victim like in Belle de jour? That's a pretty bold posture to take for someone who was pulling the actresses' strings!

phyrephox, I think that bafflement is what I find so unbelievable about the whole affair. Is he really so dense that he doesn't see when the dynamics begin to go off kilter in his personal and working relationships? If the whole idea of such intimate rehearsals was to observe, he must not have been looking deep enough (or he was entirely looking somewhere else).

Posted by: acquarello on Feb 21, 2007 8:55 PM | Permalink

to phyrephox:

no in fact brisseau is playing the man who tries, with the director, [SPOILER] to control the actress while she's going crazy (near the end of the movie)[END OF SPOILER]
he is quite tall and big, you cant miss him ;)

Posted by: merzboy on Apr 10, 2007 3:59 PM | Permalink

Hmm...I'm almost tempted to see the film just to spot the cameo...almost!

Posted by: acquarello on Apr 10, 2007 10:07 PM | Permalink

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