Demonlover Movie Review
"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.