Les Anges Exterminateurs (Exterminating Angels) (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2006)
I had entirely forgotten, until something on the IMDB boards nudged my memory, that I had watched—and not been entirely thrilled with—one of Jean-Claude Brisseau’s earlier pictures, Choses Secrétes, back in 2008. There is a great deal of conjecture on the IMDB message boards that Les Anges Exterminateurs is Brisseau’s response to charges of harassment filed against him during the making of that film. (I also saw allegations that similar charges were filed against him during the making of this one, but found no verification for this.) While my research, ragtag as it was, was able to neither confirm nor deny any of this, it can’t be denied that this movie feels autobiographical, but then you have to take into account that any film a filmmaker makes about a filmmaker making a film is going to feel autobiographical, especially when the filmmaker in the film is making the kind of film the real-life filmmaker makes. Now, go back and try to say all that five times fast. In one breath.
Plot: a director, François (A Tale of Winter‘s Frédéric van den Dreissche), sets out to make a new film. (We think, anyway.) He begins interviewing actresses and, in these interviews, pushes them farther and farther erotically. Is he really interested, as he tells them, in pushing the boundaries of the erotic, or is he just getting a thrill from watching them play with themselves (and, sometimes, each other)? Eventually, he starts focusing on two of the women, Charlotte (Au milieu de la Nuit‘s Maroussia Dubreuil) and Julie (The Girl from Nowhere‘s Lisa Bellynck). But then… what does his wife (Saint-Jacques…La Mecque‘s Marie Allan) think about all this?
It continues to amaze me that people can make porn films—or, in this case, films that border on porn without ever quite getting there—and still manage to have the final product be a bore. It would be easy (and accurate, judging by lor_’s review of the film on IMDB, which includes information from a director Q&A confirming the sexual harassment/response allegation) to pass that off as the innate inferiority of memoir, and looking back most porn-like substances I’ve come across that have bored me to tears have been of that variety. (100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, anyone?) But there’s an added level of pretentiousness here that also applies; I’m not sure whether I should be applauding Brisseau for having had the hubris to use a trope from Orphée or to backhand him, like so many other reviewers have done, for the shameless rip-off. The answer may lie in the question; would anyone but the greatest purist be taking him to task for attempting it if he’s actually pulled it off? Taking a tangent from there, arthouse porn is still porn (if you’re more ashcan than academic, you may want to look at this from the perspective that arthouse porn is still arthouse; either squinty-eyed view of this crossover is equally valid). While I would never claim to be an authority on the subject, it has always seemed to me that attempts to make arthouse porn are by default attsmpts to legitimize pornography as an artistic medium (think Winterbottom’s 9 Songs here). There should be some argument about whether such legitimization is needed, even if that argument is fading the farther we get away from the days when the “film” half of the “adult film” genre was just as important. But the legitimizing aspect here has a much darker background given the film’s memoir qualities; it can be argued that Brisseau is not attempting to legitimize the pornier aspects of his film as much as he is attempting to legitimize the sexual harassment that spawned the script for this movie. My relatively high rating for the movie, which stems entirely from my appreciation of gratuitous nudity on a movie screen, should tell you that I am at least attempting to give Brisseau the benefit of the doubt here, and my conclusion that any attempts to legitimize sexual harassment to be found here were unconscious on Brisseau’s part. If I ever find out that is not the case, I’ll be revising the rating on this to zero. **