Cinema Signal:

Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior

. "Demonlover"

In what may be the most annoying thriller of the year, director Olivier Assayas tells a story of arch depravity in a masterful way. You might not like the succession of betrayals or the erotic diligence that is the backbone of the story, it may leave you with a very bad taste in your mouth, but there is command of the medium shown here in the gradual and controlled unveiling of the motivations behind the high-blown lust for power.

The story follows Diane de Monx (exemplary Connie Neilsen), an executive with the conglomerate VolfGroup, headed up by the powerful CEO Henri-Pierre Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre). His corporation is interested in acquiring a majority interest in TokyoAnime', a Japanese cartoon company that creates animated porno for the web, a huge generator of capital.

But rival firm Magnatronics is competing for the same acquisition and no ethics restrain their tactics. They have recruited Diane to torpedo VolfGroup from within, which she does by knocking chief negotiator Karen (Dominique Reymond) out with a few drops of a controlled substance that puts her out of commission at a crucial time. Unsuspecting Volf appoints Diane to replace Karen and work with fellow executive Herve' Le Millinec (Charles Berling) who suspects that Diane is the perpetrator of the drugging. He's a "the ends justify the means" type and admires her moves, declaring himself an ally. He also considers her a candidate for sexual conquest.

Working for Karen was Elise Lipsky (fascinating Chloe Sevigny), a staff assistant, who hates Diane for the iciness of her demeanor after the soft, warm touch of her predecessor. She hates being under the thumb of her controlling new boss but that hatred will find its retribution in the betrayals and reversals that this little wench has in store.

We soon get it that the world we are in is no mere study of duplicity or unscrupulous ambition. We are in an environment of viciousness, one in which outright stabbings and mutilations would be more honest. This version of the business world is marked with degeneracy at its core. Twist following twist calls for shifting appraisals of the characters that inhabit the screen, in a downward spiral leading to the depravity the writer-director seems determined to drown us in. He takes us from mild to monstrous with a vision that seems inspired by the even more depraved and prize winning "Irreversible", and following in its festival footsteps.

The pornographic subject matter graphically presented in the film purports to be the website material which these corporations are pursuing. It may be a productive business model, but the actual product consists of an encyclopedic array of sex positioning, fluttering restlessly in a relatively harmless miasma. But to raise the erotic amplitude, our characters also surf into the more forbidden internet smut operation called "The Hellfire Club" that features the torture and degradation of a female subject. It' S & M suggesting, but just short of, snuff films.

Assayas progresses downward as though unsatisfied with the immoral framework he began with. He thinks little of breaking down his own game rules until a level of debasement is reached that my engender sufficient attention, though one senses he would have liked to carry it further. And, though he may have ended with a different film than the one he started with, he admittedly does it with considerable class, beginning with the casting of so fine and flawless an actress as Danish-born French-speaking Connie Nielsen.

Add to her career description how underrated she has been, having had yearlong gaps in film appearances. For those who don't make the connection, she played in "Gladiator" of 2000 and "One Hour Photo". Putting aside the deplorable context of "Demonlover", her intensely central role should actually give a boost to her career, bringing her singular gifts to the fickle attention of a wider audience.

I have to say that Assayas knows his actresses. He's loaded his film with more favorites, like Chloe Sevigny. There isn't a false note from this unique artist who is finally coming into her own with 5 films this year and one slated for 2004. She deserved great recognition for her very cool supporting role in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry". The previous year she lent her distinct quality to "The Days of Disco."

Finally, Assayas brings in Gina Gershon for a little all-American pot-smoking vivacity at the corporate game table.

Much French is spoken here, with either english subtitles or on-screen translation. A resourceful approach to the look of the film is largely the work of cinematographer Lenoir shooting super 16, different film stocks, pushed and framed in wide-screen 2.35 format. The original music is by Sound Youth.

The title derives from a handle that seems pervasive on the web, according to Assayas, suggesting how chat room denizens like to suggest a dark side for attention-getting purposes -- perfectly safe on the virtual level. But in the corporate dog-eat-dog power-hungry world his dark film depicts, the extremes to which competitors go in order to achieve their ambitions comes at you more threateningly. From a storytelling perspective, it is flawed and exaggerated, but just close enough to possibility that one effect this film may have on you is to cause you to look around paranoidally a bit more than you ever thought you would.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack album

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 9

                                                              ~~ Gilda P.
Very well written
This review will influence me to read more by and recommend this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and: I agree with the review.
Site Rating: 8

Do wish some reviewer would answer two questions about the movie: 1) What happened in the French Chateau where she was taken blind-folded. She came back with a nasty puncture in her arm as if there had been an IV, but, other than that, no marks and no mention. 2) She had escaped from the bad boys in the end; they were stunned and the pickup was burning - she had escaped. Why did she wander back to the scene, and, apparently, let herself be captured?

[Ed. note: This reviewer can't. Saw it too long ago to recall these details. Anyone else care to try?]

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Connie Nielsen and Charles Berling
Fellow corporate predators
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