Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Connie Nielsen, Chloë Sevigny, Gina Gershon, Charles Berling. (2002, NR, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 5, 2003
The only proper response to Demonlover, a film that sounds like it ought to be directed by Clive Barker but is instead a sleekly perplexing mind-warper on par with some of David Cronenberg’s more outré offerings, is, "What the hell?" The French director Assayas, who directed the great, challenging Irma Vep a while back, is fully engaged in making audience members’ heads ache this time out. (The film was roundly booed at Cannes this year, and a better marketing ploy would be hard to formulate.) At times, Demonlover seems to be a parable about anti-globalization, at others it’s a canny look at the dehumanization via the media that has been one of the outcomes of the Internet age. The characters in Assayas’ film fall into two camps. There’s his antiheroine Diane (Nielsen), a corporate mole working for the Magnatronix company who is out to destabilize an impending and unfriendly takeover of her French company by a rival American outfit – she’s coolly, ambiguously sexy, and her chilly demeanor references the erotic video games and streamlined porn her company distributes. On the other side of the electronic divide is Chloë Sevigny’s Elise, Diane’s assistant. Sevigny’s face has the ripeness of baby fat that never moved on to greener pastures, and compared with Nielsen’s horny whippet look, she’s a veritable Earth goddess. She’s also the film’s moral center, but since a film like Demonlover (and there’s never been a film like Demonlover to my knowledge) has no moral center, that doesn’t count for much. Or does it? You see what I mean? This film will either drive you mad or make you angry, possibly both, if you’re lucky, but it’s rarely boring. Even when it’s being deliberately obtuse, which is pretty much all of its running time, the puzzle-box narrative is compellingly unique. What’s actually going on here, and what it really means, is as much up to the viewer as it is to the film itself. Assayas is adept at creating a wholly false world in which to plunge his viewers, and once there, all bets are off. (Fans of The Waterboy will either bleed from the eyes or be rendered sterile, yet another thing to savor about Assayas’ film.) Like Cronenberg’s Videodrome, a film that in hindsight appears to be an only slightly skewed template for the reality that surrounds us now, Demonlover has things to tell us, chief among them being that in a world ruled by faceless conglomerates pushing instant eros down our orifices every time we log on, humanity, real humanity, is at premium, and dwindling rapidly. Nielsen, who ends up a victim of an online sadomasochistic sex game called, cheerily, Hellfire Club (or perhaps not – Assayas is so good at disguising his motives it’s often hard to tell what is real and what is fakery in his film), is reduced in one swift move from predator to prey, and seems to enjoy it immensely. I’ll say the same for Assayas’ film, which, love it or loathe it, is by far one of the most interesting and thoughtful pieces of cinema to savage American cinema screens in ages, and certainly the only incoming French mind-warper with a soundtrack by Sonic Youth.