Challenging is a very easy adjective to describe Exterminating Angels (Les Anges Exterminateurs), an erotic conundrum from director Jean-Claude Brisseau. The very fabric of female sensuality and, above that, the epitomic point of beauty within orgasm offers a lot of mystery and reflection in this work. Instead of giving us an earnest reflection on a complicated scenario, however, Exterminating Angels ends up overreaching its bounds and forgetting about the resemblance of a connective balance between reality and fantasy.
Francois (Frederic van den Driessche), after a series of "tests" for one of his upcoming films, turns onto a perfectly decadent woman lush with passion and beauty. However, even though he decides to go another route for that picture, her haunting beauty during this particular on-screen display of arousal leaves a lingering spark within the auteur. Even proceeding a previous unsettling message from his deceased grandmother to proceed with caution, he still finds himself crafting a film that delves into the beauty of women's sexual disposition and psyche primarily rooted in the female orgasm.
In his mind, he's only able to take on this challenge by concentrating his efforts on several women engaging in lustful, unabashed acts of both public and private sexual exposition. To find the right women for such a production, he decides to hold a more elaborate series of "tests" for his candidates. Roped into his perverse web are Charlotte and Julie, two individual pleasure-seeking enthusiasts with motives of their own, and a curious third party named Stephanie influenced by their supposed impact. However, Francois didn't plan on the mentality of these specific women willing to engage in such brazen activities; neither did he plan on the prying, carnal force in the form of fallen angels working invisibly in whispers underneath his contrivances.
Exterminating Angels dives into a pyre of smoldering, narcissistic reflection, and does so with starkly erotic zeal. For filmgoers expecting a cinematic retrospect, however, prepare to teeter on that "pornography vs. erotic drama" see-saw. Plain and simple, the hot blooded scenes in Brisseau's film fume with engulfing, albeit overdrawn, fervency. They're richly photographed and practically scorch the screen with fiery passion, but continue to burn and flicker well passed the point for expressive purposes. Oh, that's not to say they aren't invocative with simmering eroticism. But director Brisseau takes us dreadfully close to the edge with his challenge and, at times, topples us over into skepticism about the film's destination.
He has crafted a demanding film in Exterminating Angels, to say the least. To be demanding, you've got to be playing with the right elements. He is, without a doubt, on to something potent with this. Though he takes us into Francois' mind, troubling and convoluted as it is, he's really taking all of us into a usurping entity on its own - the disarming and manipulative beauty of female erogenous euphoria. And, once you begin your allured steps into this world, you've got to check your moral arsenal at the door. Once you step in, however, you're left to decipher and tangibly fiddle with the content at your own discretion. Be careful; you're tinkering with sexuality's boundaries in this.
However usurping and compelling this test may be, Exterminating Angels left me with several development qualms. For one, I'm left wondering how this older filmmaker, whose shy brashness come across as off-putting, can overwhelm these women so that they succumb to his misguided search for artistic beauty. Exactly "why" is explicitly stated numerous times, but the aura Francois personifies doesn't explain how his players could conceivably surrender in such an earnest way. He has flickering moments of charm, but nothing earning his almost Omega-esque control.
Of course, he may have just received an absolutely radiant "luck card" with his selection of manipulative, unabashed women and his meddling angels. But can we, as film lovers, completely surrender these sexually disarming activities simply over to the power of fallen angels? Herein lays the mysterious stasis I've reached with Exterminating Angels. Every single one of the women within Francois' operative circle reveals everything, including the kitchen sink, about themselves quite unnaturally. In turn, they do so without a glimmer of trusting investment from the filmmaker.
There's a surrendering, exceedingly easy air floating above Exterminating Angels that lends an insincere nature about the film. Its fantasy-based, effortless core turns a film with the promising capacity to support scathingly erotic poignancy into an unbelievable curiosity with overlong, vainglorious sex scenes. However, at least it does have the guts to throw its flame-retardant gloves on and dive into the fire with purpose. Also, to sense such feelings can only come from grasping and allowing one's self to be engulfed by the material, in which Brisseau's film succeeded. Exterminating Angels is a valiant yet lacking effort, very primal in core rumblings and scorching with lurid exertions.
Mongrel Media serves up Exterminating Angels in a single-disc presentation with reversible artwork. Complete French text is available on the other side. Furthermore, once the menu starts, you're given the option for either English or French menus.
Presented in its original full-frame negative, Exterminating Angels is a sharply framed and lushly shot film. Riddled with several flesh tones, specifically dancing around fluctuating reds, oranges, and tans, each color tossed on the screen was quite vivid. When downshifted to the cooler grays of his office to the vibrant blues scattered across his home, those appeared quite vibrant as well.However, several instances of nasty interlaced combing pop up at various points throughout the film. Aside from that, small details were shown through fairly well. It's a decent image that remains pleasing to the eye throughout. Though low in budget, all of the splendid camerawork seeps onto the screen well enough.
This point surprised me a bit. In a French 5.1 Dolby track, Exterminating Angels sounds quite nice. Separation between channels isn't utilized very much, but it keeps a steady keel across the board. Much of the music remains fairly forgettable in the background, though pleasantly backwashed and unobtrusive. Also, the consistent radio voice that pops up across the entire film held a very solid strength. A French 2.0 Stereo track is available, as are English subtitles.
Two distinct supplements are included:
- Behind The Scenes Interview with Brisseau -
This Interview with the director and his production right hand woman for the film gives steady insight into how everything came together. Apparently, a lot of revisions and tinerking with the plot and other elements took place with the film that sound quite interesting. In all, this little featurette is compelling and undoubtedly worth the watch.
- Alternate Scene -
This alternate scene is a revamping of a conversation that occurs around the center of the film involving Francois and his "muse". It's practically the same scene with the same empathy, but with some alternate takes on timing and verbose. Brisseau describes in an introduction the motives behind the alterations and his inclusion within this DVD.
Furthermore, a Theatrical Trailer for the film is also included.
Exterminating Angels reminded me a lot of being on a bungee chord dangling above a crimson, emblazoned sea of sexual convolution. Only, it was a lot like the final, dying plummets. Repeatedly, I was taken down into the tickling flames and left at discomforting points for a prolonged period of time, only to be brought back up only long enough to catch my breath. As unique and engaging as the material was, this exasperatingly thoughtful effort was less satisfying than it could've been. However, you should undoubtedly accept Brisseau's compelling little challenge and give Exterminating Angels a Rent to gauge for yourself.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site