3 1/2 stars
Frederic van den Driessche, Maroussia Dubreuil, Lise Bellynck
Directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau
French filmmaker Brisseau offers either a feature-length apology or excuse for his own behavior, depending on your point of view, with Exterminating Angels, a lurid, psychosexual drama in which the main character is an obvious stand-in for Brisseau himself. That character, Francois (van den Driessche), is putting together a movie much like Brisseau’s own 2003 film Secret Things, one whose premise is left intentionally vague, but which involves the exploration of female sexual pleasure.
To that end, he auditions a steady parade of young, nubile actresses, subjecting them to unconventional screen tests that involve Francois filming the women masturbating and recounting their deepest sexual fantasies. This is the same process that Brisseau used to cast Secret Things, and one of the actresses who tested had the director charged with sexual harassment. It’s not hard to see how someone in her position could construe the process as coercive and invasive, even as Brisseau, er, Francois acts only as a passive observer and documenter, and goes home each night to his wife.
Francois is an obvious narcissist, and Brisseau is even more so for having his surrogate as the object of schoolgirl crushes from half the women he meets, especially the three he eventually casts in his film. Things get a little too serious, and the lives of Francois and his actresses become intertwined, with messy results. As with Secret Things, it’s hard to tell here if Brisseau is a raging misogynist or a radical feminist, and what makes the movie interesting is that he’s probably a little bit of both.
Also, there are plenty of explicit shots of hot women masturbating, kissing, caressing and performing oral sex on each other. If there’s one thing Brisseau clearly knows, it’s how to depict the sensual in an arousing manner, and his film is provocative both for the mind and the loins. It’s undoubtedly self-serving, too, but its button-pushing is stimulating in all the right ways, and even if you leave hating the director, you’ll certainly be feeling something.