Battling Over Anime Porn in Paris, Tokyo, and Cyberspace

Ostentatiously set 15 minutes into the future, Olivier Assayas's demonloveris an exercise in video-game aesthetics and image circulation. The antithesis of the French director's last film—the literary period piece Les Destinées(screening this week at MOMA's Assayas retro)—demonloveroscillates between the gratingly stylish and the hilariously self-reflexive, mainly suggesting a nastier version of Irma Vep.

However glitzy, clever, and luridly philosophical, demonloveris still mainly an old-fashioned thriller. The superbly choreographed, verité-style opener moves from a first-class airplane cabin down to the airport parking lot, tracking an ambitious young executive (elegantly wan Connie Nielsen) as she dopes her senior colleague's mineral water and sets the older woman up for a post-landing abduction. This cutthroat business maneuver awards Nielsen both her victim's petulant assistant (Chloë Sevigny, talking French) and current responsibility, negotiating for a stake in a cutting-edge Japanese purveyor of 3-D porno anime (visualized as young girls violated in various orifices by multi-tentacled aliens).

Indeed, swimming with the piranhas from one high-powered business meeting to another, Nielsen's cold-blooded success bitch is in show business. The movie's interest level spikes with the introduction of Gina Gershon in an "I Love Gossip" T-shirt as a mover and shaker at the American dotcom demonlover. Assayas borrows a few cues from David Cronenberg's venerable Videodromein positing the baleful attraction of an interactive torture site and the movie takes a definite turn when Nielsen and Gershon go mano a mano in a hotel kitchenette.

A nastier Irma Vep: Demonlover's Nielsen
photo: Palm Pictures
A nastier Irma Vep: Demonlover's Nielsen

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demonlover
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Palm, opens September 19,Landmark Sunshine

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This catfight of doom inspired a burst of derisive applause when demonloverhad its world premiere at Cannes. The movie has since been cut by 12 minutes, probably for the better. With some clutter cleared, Assayas's various vid-game strategies—positioning every character as a player in this meta-entertainment, introducing cartoon characters once the movie hits hysterical default mode, implicating the audience in the spectacle—are more apparent.

Narrative disappears as demonloverlurches into actiondom, but Mulholland Drivethis isn't. The argument is less surreal than cerebral. Demonloveris more a low-rent Charlie's Angelsexcept that Charlie, c'est mort. "They watch but they don't understand," someone muses. For all its simulated violence, the movie leaves the impression of a contest seen through a screen darkly over someone else's shoulder.


Related Article:
"The Rise of the Machines: The Future Is Today, in Olivier Assayas's Plugged-In Virtual Porn Cyberthriller" by Dennis Lim

 
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