Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Exterminating Angels and L’Iceberg Reviews

Exterminating Angels two sexy lesbians in black dresses

David Lynch has a lot to answer for. Too many
directors assume that by using blue light, white noise, and incomprehensible
plot twists, their film will become the next Twin Peaks: Fire
Walk with Me
. Unfortunately, Jean-Claude Brisseau is just such
a director, and The Exterminating Angels (Les Anges Exterminateurs)
is a derivative melding of Mulholland Drive and sex, lies,
and videotape
. The plot sees fifty-something director François
(Frédéric van den Driessche) making what he considers
to be a cutting-edge film about the “secret” world of
female pleasure. Before casting the project, he “tests”
several actresses by asking them to perform explicit sexual acts
to make sure they are truly open to the transgression of boundaries
his film will represent. In this endeavor, François is inexplicably
both helped and hindered by seemingly supernatural figures. Two
black-clad women, presumably the titular angels, see to it that
two particular young actresses take part in the filming, with disastrous
results: one falls in love with him, the other claims to be possessed
by the devil. Meanwhile François’s deceased grandmother
appears, spotlit and in full makeup (looking not unlike Dean Stockwell
in Blue Velvet), to warn her grandson of the danger his
project will incur.

The film is a gratuitous mix of lesbian love scenes and preposterous
dialogue as François becomes both confessor and voyeur of
his troubled cast, not realizing his production is heading for disaster
as the girls’ total instability is revealed. Moreover, it
is all very self-referential, with François becoming a stand-in
for Brisseau himself, pontificating on dramatic construction—his
references to classical tragedy and Corneille’s theories of
dramatic poetry give viewers a hint as to where the film is going—and
the importance of bringing the supposedly taboo subject of “mystical
ecstasy” to the screen. That François never gets to
complete his project suggests that the subject is too dangerous
even for the maverick filmmaker to expose with impunity; though,
of course, the meta-narrative of the film itself contradicts that
idea. The film would be exasperating enough had it not been done
before, and done better, by the likes of Catherine Breillat, and
indeed, David Lynch.

l'iceberg men standing on sailboat

On the other hand there is L' Iceberg: a similar
premise, a vastly different execution. This Belgian comedy centers
on a woman’s struggle to free herself from domestic limbo:
Fiona (Fiona Gordon) gets locked in a freezer overnight. Her husband
and children don’t realize she’s gone. This causes Fiona
to re-evaluate her unfulfilling suburban existence and sees her
setting off on a personal odyssey to find her own iceberg. These
are the bare bones of the film, created by a trio of former circus
performers. Arguably, this structural skeleton is fleshed out by
the actors’ physical comedy, yet the work as a whole feels
more like performance art than a feature film.

To say the dialogue is sparse would be an understatement. The film
begins with a seemingly unrelated discourse by an Inuit woman on
her disappearing language, Inuktitut. Almost ten minutes of silence
follows before the first words of dialogue are spoken by the protagonist.
And yet language, specifically the unreliability of speech, is central
to the film. After escaping from Belgium, Fiona finds herself at
the French seaside, where she falls in love with a deaf sailor with
whom she communicates through pictures, while her husband’s
repeated question, “T’es où?” (where are
you), which receives no reply, encapsulates Fiona struggle to come
to terms with where her life’s journey is taking her.

With so few words, the film relies on images to make its message
understood. Actions replace dialogue to comedic effect, while landscape
is manipulated to reflect the characters’ states of mind.
The bleak suburban sprawl of Fiona’s everyday world is punctuated
with splashes of red, suggesting the passion that burns beneath
her cold exterior. The many wide shots of sea and sky are visually
stunning and add to the theme of the personal journey as the characters
traverse the great expanses. Throw in a boat called “le titanique”
and an actual iceberg, and the overall effect is original and slightly
surreal.

The over-the-top, almost slapstick humor of the film belies deeper
themes about love, self-fulfillment, and identity as Fiona eventually
finds what she’s looking for. Though it has difficulty sustaining
her nearly silent search for 84 minutes, L’Iceberg,
unlike Exterminating Angels, offers the viewer a unique
experience.

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