François (Frédéric Van Den Driessche), the lofty film director who’s at the center of Exterminating Angels, is auditioning actresses for his latest talky highbrow sex film (in France, is there any other kind?). As he sits and listens, raising a William F. Buckley Jr. eyebrow whenever he hears a word like ”sodomy,” the young women, who are all coltishly alluring in that Gallic trust-fund grad-student way, discuss the taboos they’re longing to break. Most of them are turned on by these acts of confession, as well as by François, who appears to be a casting-couch lothario shrewd enough to underplay his lechery. But no! He’s a faithfully married man who just wants to make the boldest erotic film he can. That must be why he instructs the women to get naked and masturbate for him, sometimes two or three at a time.
Jean-Claude Brisseau, the writerdirector of Exterminating Angels, was accused of sexual harassment by four actresses who auditioned for his previous feature, Secret Things (2002) — an accusation that gets repeated here, in fictional form. The new movie, for all its huffing and puffing, explores very little, even if some of it is sexy in a Howard Stern-meets-9 1?2Weeks way. Highbrow sex films come and go, but glorified vanilla Playboy girl-on-girl action is, apparently, eternal. Brisseau has clearly crafted ExterminatingAngels to be Exhibit X in his own defense. Yet how can a filmmaker summon up erotic danger when he’s trying so hard to advertise his innocence?