The Exterminating Angels DVD review

Jean-Claude Brisseau's explicit film explores sexuality, voyeurism and the female psyche in a manner that is never exploitative...

The Exterminating Angels

It’s slick and titillating, and it sends you back to the erotic arthouse movies of the 1970s to which it owes a great debt. Jean-Claude Brisseau’s 2006 film follows a middle-aged director as he embarks on a film project on the female orgasm. 

The movie starts with the film director’s character (François, played by Frédéric Van Den Driessche) having visions of a dead relative and it continues with two ‘fallen angels’ who are watching him, hinting at a disturbing denouément which I will not spoil. We follow him through interviews to find suitable actresses, and he screen tests them by filming them pleasuring themselves. 

While there is an undisputed voyeurism, and plenty of explicit action to gawp at, François is merely a vessel to enable the viewer experience the sexual act. He is also committed to the emotional side that this film will reveal – hence, why he wants to use ‘real’ women, not porn professionals.

François hires three actresses who share a physical and emotional closeness with each other, proving in the end that you cannot stay detached when both elements enter the equation. The film escalates to a Greek tragedy-style finale that is remarkable given the temptations of the subject matter.

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Brisseau takes his cue from a partly autobiographical incident from around the time of the release of his previous movie Secret Things (Choses Secrètes, 2002), when he was accused of harassment and of trying to incite actresses to masturbate for the screen test.

He makes an effort with his subject matter and invests it with plenty of philosophical discussions about the female orgasm and attempted forays into the female psyche, but ultimately, in the latter part of the movie especially, it seems to take itself just a little too seriously.

As a stylish French movie, it exudes sexiness, and sometimes, perhaps predictably, it feels like style over content, yet it never feels exploitative. The film expresses a kinship to Luis Buñuel, referencing his 1962 film The Exterminating Angel and attempting to share some of its high-mindedness.

The angels of the title become visible when the director gets too close with his cast. Are they a moral chorus? A reminder of our latent voyeuristic nature? I leave the interpretation of their role to you.

The quality of the reproduction on the DVD is superb and the colours are rendered beautifully.

The extra features include a 42-minute long interview with director Brisseau and the film editor, as well as a photo gallery and the option of English, French or Portuguese subtitles.

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3 stars
3 stars

The Exterminating Angels is out now.


3 out of 5