Notes on “The Exterminating Angels”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

The 2006 “The Exterminating Angels,” the middle part of what I take to be writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau’s trilogy on the subject of the modern young woman, is too severe to be effective as trash and too devoted to extremeness to be accepted as art by most Americans. It’s a philosophical work that intentionally muddles the physically and conceptually outré — a French specialty. The plot concerns a film director named François — an obvious stand-in for Brisseau — who is auditioning actresses for an erotic thriller. The aspirants, young and lithesome, compete for his attention, each attempting to impress the filmmaker with her audaciousness. (The actresses, mostly unknowns, are uniformly daring and touchingly vulnerable in extremis.) François watches them, obviously aroused yet mindful of his role as observer and interpreter. He’s trying to get at something: the place where pleasure overlaps with savagery, where sex becomes dangerous. He’s foolish enough to imagine that he can preserve his analytical distance. In some ways François is the everyman counterpart of the frankly Satanic Christophe from Brisseau’s previous film, “Secret Things.” Where Christophe consciously destroys young women, François’ tutelage takes the guise of art. It’s unintentionally destructive, but destructive just the same. Only towards the picture’s end does François realize that by encouraging these girls to succumb to passion he’s thrown himself into the gaping maw of Pandora’s Box. The girls thank him for freeing them, then hate him for the same reason. Eventually they have François thrown in jail for harassment. (Using the language of occultism, one of them accuses him of “initiating” her.) Questions concerning passion, fidelity, voyeurism, performance, and the nature of male-female relations are raised and never quite answered (that’s a feature not a bug). Contra those who see “The Exterminating Angels” as nothing more than a horndog’s indulgence, I think it’s one of the few recent movies about sex that can stake a claim to a moral point of view. (“Showgirls” and the aforementioned “Secret Things” are two others.) The pair of fallen angels who inspire François, and occasionally intervene in his favor, are perhaps unnecessary, but they lend a fatalistic air to the proceedings, and invoke the supernatural agency on which Brisseau’s work thrives. Partially based on Brisseau’s experience filming “Secret Things,” “The Exterminating Angels” anticipated MeToo by over 10 years. Amusingly, it was distributed in the States by the Weinstein Company.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
This entry was posted in Movies, Sex and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Notes on “The Exterminating Angels”

  1. ia says:

    “I think it’s one of the few recent movies about sex that can stake a claim to a moral point of view.”

    I tried to see on Criterion and Amazon but to no avail. From the comments and your’s I’d imagine it’s more along the lines of Bob & Carol, Ted & Alice voyeurism. Ugly people, 90% of humanity, watching beautiful people having sex, gussied up a bit with either documentary or brainy cover. You are probably not very attractive. Not your fault, mind you, but I am a bit suspicious. Anyway, thank you for your very interesting articles.

    Culture, as Ezra Pound said, is what’s left over after you forgot what you tried to learn.


  2. Glengarry says:

    I thought the third film, À L’Aventure, was quite interesting. It starts out as banal modern degeneracy, where young woman has to “find herself”, wink wink, but ends up something rather different, and, to me, pretty surprising, in the end.

    I also enjoyed the later The Girl from Nowhere, though it sort of crash landed into the ending. But I found it engrossing up until then.

    Apparently Brisseau passed away just this May. A pity; based on these he was one of the more interesting modern French film makers.


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