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    The vids are all right

    The raunchy "Videodrome"-inspired thriller "demonlover" is loosely constructed and falls apart completely before it's over, but miraculously pulls itself together in a final coup de grace, perhaps to your satisfaction.


    Taking obvious inspiration from David Cronenberg's weird techno nightmare "Videodrome" with maybe a sprinkling of David Lynch, "demonlover" is an exhilarating, confused, ridiculous, clever, and frustrating ride that repeatedly leaves you asking "Why, why, why?" but finally offers an answer to that question that might or might not work for you.

    Written and directed by: Olivier Assayas.
    Cast: Connie Nielsen, Charles Berling, Chlo‘ Sevigny, Gina Gershon, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Dominique Reymond, Edwin Gerard, Thomas M. Pollard, Abi Sakamoto.

    Related links: Official site | French site
    Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2003
  • Carnage
  • demonlover
  • Life Kills Me
  • Official site
    With an international cast that includes Americans Chloe Sevigny and Gina Gershon, this French-made film focuses on a case of corporate espionage at a Paris investment-banking boutique whose latest investment opportunity is a Tokyo animation company that produces pornographic animˇ. (How this small-time operation a continent away became the obsession of a French stock-trading firm is the first "Why?" of the movie, but hell, let's just go with the flow for a while.) They need an infusion of cash to develop as a next-generation porn empire without getting everybody busted.

    "We are operating within a very fragile boundary," the French boss Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre) admits to one of his minions, Diane (Connie Nielsen of "One Hour Photo" and "Gladiator"). "But I believe we are within the limits of the law." That's reassuring.

    Soon we have a whole mishmash of rival firms, multimillion-euro deals, corporate moles, inside intrigue, guns, needles and sex, and many times you can see the calculations that went into the picture more clearly than you can see the plot itself. There are actors from three continents to help sell the film internationally; raunchy interludes of depraved animˇ porn to give you the feeling that envelopes are being pushed; gee-whiz technology that would have pushed your Internet-bubble buttons in the Internet bubble era but less so now; the glaring product placement of European luxury automobiles to bring in cash and give the characters an air of Bond-like sophistication; and characters popping up more to supply the screenwriter with plot developments than because the pieces of a puzzle are fitting together.

    By the standards of thriller logic, this is a very loosely constructed story in which, for all the people who seem to be plotting or pulling strings behind the scenes, it's not clear that anything is happening for a meaningful reason.

    But the film does drop a few mysteries along the path to let you know something intriguing is going on out of your sight. On a chartered plane back from a business trip, the tall, icily machiavellian Diane pulls a stunt that gets her colleague Karen shanghaied at the airport and crucial documents stolen. She seems to be getting away with it when a piece of evidence suddenly appears in the middle of her desk with a note in French saying: "Haven't you forgotten something?" Where these dangerous office-politics games will lead, and what they might have to do with the Internet porn business, we can only speculate.

    Halfway through, events around the tightly controlled Diane start to spin out of control — and eventually the plot becomes totally inexplicable. You can spend half an hour thinking the characters have lost their minds, followed by 15 minutes thinking the filmmaker has lost his mind, followed by a final two minutes that kind of, sort of, maybe, put the pieces together and show that the story was actually intended to make less and less sense as it went on — and it makes sense that way. Whether it works for you, that's for you to decide.

    Me, I like the concept and the sense of intrigue as far as it goes, but far too little was done to set up the ultimate answers as profferred at the end. There's nothing to explain how the person who's actually pulling everyone else's strings got in that position or the specifics of how it's done. The film offers surprises without reasons.

    MARCH 10, 2003

    Reader comments on demonlover:

  • excellent review!   from zorglub, Aug 31, 2003
  • demonlover stunk   from Person, Sep 19, 2003

  • Post a comment on "demonlover"