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François is a film-maker, usually impassive and without affect. He's making a film about women's pleasure as they transgress taboos. He doesn't know that two fallen angels who've been sent to upend him are manipulating his interest. He interviews young women, video tapes screen tests, and selects several for the film. The erotic scenes with them generate off-screen dynamics that may overwhelm the project. His wife is at first ignorant of his venture, then she's put off, and then becomes his assistant. The fallen angels are always close at hand: is François's ruin inevitable? Written by
You're 20. You're beautiful. You're young.The world's at your feet. You use your charms. But it doesn't last. You become less beautiful. Your hold on people starts to weaken. There's always someone who makes you pay the price.
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I agree with most negative IMDb reviews of Brisseau's film, and want to take the discussion one step further: the booking of this film (and his next film) at Lincoln Center in NYC, as well as becoming a Cannes Film Festival selection, showing how easily a phony like Brisseau can hoodwink the gatekeepers of the international festival circuit.
On all key points, Exterminating Angels (title a la Bunuel) is a failure: originality: Zero; writing: Zero; realization: Zero; self-serving content: 100%.
On the DVD, Brisseau is interviewed alongside his collaborator (dating back to his humble super 8mm beginnings) Maria Luisa Garcia by a French critic who comically looks like Bill Gates -what Gates might have become if he'd gone to some Film School instead of studying math and science at Harvard. They discuss the evolution of the film's screenplay, and it becomes evident that what started as an unapologetic defense of Brisseau's sexual harassment activities on his just-previous film Choses Secretes, was elevated to pretentiousness by the insertion of fantasy elements STOLEN whole cloth from Jean Cocteau's classic 1950 film Orphée. The voice-over recitations by Brisseau are familiar to any art-house fan of the Cocteau work, allusions to the radio transmissions from the Underground during WW II. Since every film student and film buff over a certain age has seen Orpheé and absorbed it as perhaps THE art-house film of all time, I don't know how Brisseau thought he could get away with this ripoff.
The screenplay is extremely poor, with the director/hero repetitiously going through a gee-whiz, do women have orgasms? approach that is ludicrous. Structurally, it is reminiscent of the "white-coat" earliest hardcore porn films at the end of the 1960s, when sex had to be treated in fake-documentary fashion to escape censorship (before the semi-documentary style I Am Curious (Yellow) was famously cleared by the Supreme Court, thus opening the floodgates for modern porn). Brisseau as interviewed is proud as a peacock of his dialogue, which he says he adapts from run-throughs and meetings with the cast, but it is a mass of boring clichés.
The casting of the actor playing the Brisseau-like director in the film is a real mistake no one seems to have noticed -he looks a lot like the famous American porn director/star Paul Thomas, known as PT to his crew. Thomas has made many hundreds of adult films and in several of them he portrays a director working on a sex film project, closely resembling the format of what Brisseau is doing here. It's easy to imagine mainstream fans not picking up on this, but perhaps Brisseau can claim ignorance of Thomas's work, though I doubt it.
Brisseau works with a budget most porn directors (not the makers of epics like Pirates) would die for, yet his lighting and framing of the sex scenes here is remote and unimaginative, ultimately failing to "deliver the goods". Unlike his compatriot Catherine Breillat, he does not feature male actors in sex scenes (no ever erect Rocco Siffredi on call), avoiding the censorship problems of hardcore footage. Though both films are about lesbian sex, he also carefully avoids the paraphernalia, such as dildos and strap-ons, of hardcore lesbian sex films. Julie at one point holds up to the camera a small egg-shaped device she claims to use as a masturbation device, but it is not visible during the subsequent auto-erotic scene, again rendering the material softcore and as usual, simulated.
The resulting package is aimed squarely at the festival set, an international group of cineastes who live the life of jet setters (sort of), showing new films by mainly esoteric but also anxious-to-self-promote mainstreamers, throwing gala parties, and holding endlessly boring (I've walked out on enough in my lifetime) q&a sessions, on a circuit that has expanded in recent decades to something of a cottage industry. Cannes was invented 70 years ago as a gimmick to promote the town during the off-season, and the idea has spread far afield, to the Hamptons and (courtesy of Robert De Niro) even TriBeCa in my neck of the woods. Many films (and filmmakers) never escape from the festival route, showing at Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, Montreal, Edinburgh, Sundance and hundreds of other places, but worn out (or deemed unworthy) by the time it comes for theatrical distribution. The schmoes who booked this one at Cannes, and both this one and his next at Lincoln Center, are not-so-closet voyeurs: the so-called art film has always had a thread of sexploitation about it. (Recall that the most successful art films in the 1950s imported to the U.S were sexy Bergman ("Monika") and other Scandi product, then Bitter Rice, Lollobrigida, Loren and finally endless Brigitte Bardot vehicles.) The first hardcore porn film shown at Lincoln Center was a pseudo-docu Exhibition which I remember seeing back in 1975 -a piece of junk, still in circulation on DVD to bore a new generation of unsuspecting fans. The tastemakers of this "elite" side of the film industry are easily bamboozled by a fakir like Brisseau, with his embarrassingly undercooked combination of art & exploitation.
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