"Demonlover" features a score by art-punk band Sonic Youth that really captures the essence of the film: It's deliberately abrasive, rapidly pulsing electronic black noise that is designed to put the viewer on edge but ultimately signifies nothing.
A discombobulated, pretentious, psycho-sexual excursion into the cold-blooded, under-the-table fringe of 21st century corporate intrigue, it's a self-important drama in which poisoning, kidnapping, breaking and entering, ransacking, blackmail and brainwashing are all in a day's work -- and all add up to an unimaginative, exploitive shock ending.
The concoction of French filmmaker Olivier Assayas ("Irma Vep"), "Demonlover" stars Connie Nielsen ("Gladiator," "One Hour Photo") as Diane, a second-tier envoy for a Paris-based conglomerate that is negotiating a production and distribution deal with a Japanese maker of animated porn.
Ambitious and aloof but insecure, Diane begins the film by having a superior poisoned, abducted and mugged for confidential papers, thereby clearing the path for her to take over the negotiations -- and this is the character with whom we're supposed to identify. It's soon clear that somebody is on to Diane, and paranoia barely has a chance to set in before she's being subverted by an unscrupulous colleague (Charles Berling) and the devious personal assistant (Chloe Sevigny) of the woman she poisoned.
As multifarious boardroom and bedroom headgames unfold, revealing illicit conspiracies around every corner (even Diane is not what she seems), Assayas permeates the film with discomforting extreme close-ups of pornographic imagery that are often suggestive of rape. At one point, his handheld digital-video camera lingers on a computer screen as a character surfs room to room on a sexual torture web site that has an underground connection to one of the companies involved in the negotiations.
What the director doesn't seem to recognize is that his actors are perfectly capable of building tension to a boiling point without such blatantly manipulative visual aides.
Even though she comes across with a very cold beauty, Nielsen gives Diane a nebulous layer of vulnerability that makes her seem in peril every moment of the film -- even when she thinks she has the upper hand. Berling ("Ridicule," "L'ennui") is barely recognizable with a shaved head, a three-day scruff, and wicked glare that exudes animal sexuality in a way that is at once alluring and repellant.
Seemingly a meek personal assistant, Sevigny provides her character a dangerous unpredictability, and Gina Gershon ("Bound") is so unnervingly perverted as an American merger capitalist that even though she meets a possibly deadly fate, you wouldn't be surprised if she turned up again later.
But as the story disintegrates into bewildering conspiratorial miscellany -- with gunpoint abductions, double-crosses, murder, desperate escapes from secret imprisonments and multiple twists of fate, many of which leave oodles of unanswered questions -- the performances lose all their nuance, and fall victim to Assayas' quest for unnerving intensity.
He accomplishes his mission, but to the detriment of the movie since he's clearly more interested in shock value and vague, meaningless allusions to some unspoken, deep-seated cultural malignancy than he is in telling a coherent or compelling story.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 6th November 2002
Box Office USA: $39.3k
Distributed by: Palm Pictures
Production compaines: Citizen Films, Cofimage, Elizabeth Films, Group Dataciné, Berns Brothers Productions
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 37 Rotten: 39
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Starring: Connie Nielsen as Diane de Monx, Charles Berling as Hervé Le Millinec, Chloë Sevigny as Elise Lipsky, Dominique Reymond as Karen, Jean-Baptiste Malartre as Henri-Pierre Volf, Gina Gershon as Elaine Si Gibril, Edwin Gerard as Edward Gomez, Thomas M. Pollard as Avocat américain, Abi Sakamoto as Kaori - la traductrice, Naoko Yamazaki as Eiko, Nao Ōmori as Shoji (as Nao Ohmori), Jean-Pierre Gos as Verkamp - Contact Diane, Julie Brochen as Gina - Amie de Diane, Randall Holden as Ray, Alexandre Lachaux as Erwan - Broker #1, Ludovic Schoendoerffer as Luis - Broker #2, Mathias Mlekuz as Chauffeur d'Elise, Gilles Masson as Homme au chien, Pascal Oumaklouf as Agresseur #1 de Karen, Bruno Soldani as Agresseur #2 de Karen, Arnaud Mathey-Dreyfus as Assistant de Hervé, Stéphane Lévy as Assistant de Volf, Jurgen Doering as Styliste, Alexis Pivot as Frankie, Eric Weinberg as Père de Frankie, Laurent Jacquet as Chauffeur de Volf, Papis Gadio as Ami d'Elise, Danny Evangelista as Valet de chambre Volf, Carmelita Tuazan as Gouvernante, Margot Kansten as Fille Volf #1, Charlotte Kansten as Fille Volf #2, Paul Michineau as Voiturier Hôtel Raphaël, Arnaud Guenet as Garçon d'étage Hôtel Raphaël, Marie Modiano as Jeune fille au restaurant, Xinjie Ge as Serveuse restaurant, Tarô Suwa as Japon - Avocat #1, Ikko Suzuki as Japon - Avocat #2, Black as Japon - Travesti au Yellow Club, Emiko Mokudai as Japon - Masseuse, Toru Kodama as Japon - Homme d'affaires, Romantica as Japon - Danseuses au Yellow Club, E. Male as Japon - VJs au Yellow Club, Hugo Aguilera as Mexique - Homme de main #1, Julian Bucio as Mexique - Homme de main #2, Mauricio Martínez as Mexique - Homme de main #3, George W. Bush as Himself (archive footage), Arnaud Cafaxe as Salary man (uncredited), Jean-Charles Dumay as Henri (uncredited), Karine Lima as Zora (uncredited)
Also starring: Chloe Sevigny
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