Maestro of pulse-quickening simulated sex Jean-Claude Brisseau offers a frequently funny, authentically arousing and seemingly autobiographical tale in “Exterminating Angels,” the story of a too-trusting French helmer who lands in hot water for taping auditions that call for a cold shower. Brisseau trains his deft camera on the crescendo of female sexual pleasure and how women can heighten the intensity of already blissful sensations via transgressive flourishes. If exiting viewers could all be asked “Was it good for you?” the likely answer is “Yes.”
While pic’s not as exquisitely perverse as director’s “Secret Things” (2002), the former school teacher turned iconoclastic filmmaker boldly soldiers on in his cinematic exploration of how women get what they want, in bed and out. As with “Secret Things,” there is no question that the venture is both titillating and intellectually rigorous.
It would be difficult to argue that there’s anything remotely sordid about sex as scripter-helmer Brisseau films it. And despite his penchant for crypto-mystical asides uttered by ethereal beings, there’s a lot of deliberate humor to leaven the threat of pretentiousness, which is more than one can say for the average Catherine Breillat opus.
At pic’s outset, 50ish film director Francois (Frederic Van Den Driessche) is asleep at home with his wife when he is visited by the spirit of his beloved dead grandmother. She beseeches him to take care of himself and not get carried away. He’s baffled by the warning.
On the stairs, two young women (Raphaele Godin, Margaret Zenou), who may be fallen angels and can materialize and vanish at will, set out to follow their mysterious “orders” which seem to bode ill for courteous, hard-working Francois.
While conducting private auditions for a thriller with a few erotic scenes, Francois expects the actress (Virginie Legeay) to fake a climax. Instead she tells him she has just experienced her first orgasm. She speculates that the fact he was watching and the camera spurred her on.
Her admission inspires Francois to begin a film project about how even a tiny dose of the forbidden can boost one’s capacity for pleasure.
Statuesque blonde Julie (Lise Bellynck), clearly unstable brunette Charlotte (Maroussia Dubreuil) and intriguing Stephanie (Marie Allan) are three chicks only too happy to get in their licks. When they audition — individually and together — backs arch, breath quickens, flesh undulates and gestures speed up with convincing strokes, as it were.
Francois doesn’t participate except as a respectful voyeur, but returning from a — perhaps literal — hard day at the office, Francois makes love to his wife with gusto. But she, too, warns him he’s out of his depth.
Brisseau wants to know why the depiction of sex is so often accompanied by violence and hypocrisy. The issue of trust versus manipulation between a director and his cast, the ways in which an artist puts himself on the line in the service of his creation and the alleged taboo against women getting their rocks off with tasteful gusto are all explored to varying degrees.
Brisseau has taken pains to repeat that most of this script was written well before February 2003 when — acting on charges of abuse brought by a few actresses who were NOT cast in “Secret Things” — police knocked on his door. Helmer’s brush with the law (he risked a stiff prison sentence but was more or less exonerated) adds a frisson although this shoot wrapped before last autumn’s trial.
Apart from beautifully lit naked flesh, entire pic looks very good indeed on a budget of roughly $600,000.